Look! Now AT&T Is Talking Up Tiers

Forget cell phones, carriers need tablet plans.

Hot on the heels of Verizon talking about tiered data plans for the iPhone as well as new plans for its LTE roll out, AT&T is signaling more of its thoughts on pricing plan changes. The nation’s second-largest wireless carrier also announced a new pricing plan for tablets that sees month-to-month access as opposed to a contract even on a post-paid plan. But first, more on the pricing plan changes.

Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets spoke yesterday at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecom Conference (s ms) and talked up tiered pricing, saying AT&T now has more than 10 million customers on such plans. Mobile Business Briefing quotes de la Vega and writes:

“I think that it works great for the customer, they have a choice. If they want to use less they pay less, if they want to use more they pay more. That’s a very sustainable model of the long-term, for the industry.” Customers with tiered plans also “have less usage and better yield per megabyte of data than an unlimited customer,” he noted. The company is looking to maintain its pricing model when it begins to switch-on its LTE network. Under the current regime, in addition to a low-end tariff, AT&T offers a US$25 for 2MB option, charging an additional US$10 per 1MB beyond this. However, he also acknowledged that “what I think is likely to happen in an LTE environment is that customers will use more [data].”

At the same conference on Tuesday, Verizon (s vz) CFO Fred Shammo also discussed tiered pricing and said Verizon would nix the unlimited plan on iPhones sometime this summer. Shammo confirmed that LTE and customers are using more data. However, given the rise in data use on these faster connections, one hopes Verizon and AT&T introduce tiers that don’t penalize customers for taking full advantage of their 4G connections. After all, it’s one thing to show me downloading movies on my Verizon LTE dongle in ads, but it’s another to then receive a bill for $20 because those two hours of movie streaming kicked me into 2 GB of overage charges. (Verizon charges $10 per GB in overage fees on 5GB and 10 GB plans)

Which brings us back to AT&T’s new tablet pricing plans, announced Thursday. They involve a pre-paid option billed to a user’s credit card and a “post-paid” option billed to a customer’s wireless bill. The plans are similar: costing $14.99 for 250 MB or $25 for 2 GB. However, on the postpaid plan billed to the wireless bill, a customer pays $10 per 1 GB of overage, while the prepaid plan allows people to purchase an additional 2 GB for $25 in overage fees. I understand that AT&T expects customers to use Wi-Fi instead of cellular connectivity often with these tablets, but as portable, media-consumption devices, tablets also use a lot more data than phones. Which makes me think these plans and possibly forthcoming LTE plans are stingy.

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