New AT&T smartphone and tablet plans pricier but offer more data

Existing smartphone, tablet customers can stick with current plans or move to new ones on Jan. 22

AT&T has announced new smartphone and tablet data plans that start at higher prices than current plans but also offer more data for the buck. However, if customers are satisfied with what they've got, they can stick with it.

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AT&T, which like most other carriers has ditched all-you-can-eat data plans in favor of tiered offerings, has announced the following plans:

New smartphone plans include:

• AT&T Data Plus 300MB: $20 for 300MB (You don't want to go over this or you'll get whacked for an additional $20 and would better off going for the next level up!) 

• AT&T Data Pro 3GB: $30 for 3GB 

• AT&T Data Pro 5GB: $50 for 5GB, with mobile hotspot/tethering

New tablet plans include:

• AT&T DataConnect 3GB: $30 for 3GB 

• AT&T DataConnect 5GB: $50 for 5GB

By comparison, current plans for iPhone users include $15 for 200MB and $25 for 2GB (although AT&T is continuing to make available a tablet plan for $15 that delivers up to 250MB of data for iPad customers).

It's tricky to do an apples to apples comparison with other carriers, but AT&T's plans are competitive with Verizon, which, for example, offers a $30 smartphone plan for 2GB rather than AT&T's 3GB, but the same basic 5GB for $50.

AT&T makes available tools, including a data calculator, to help customers figure out the best plan for them. AT&T sends text messages to its customers to keep them abreast of their data consumption and encourages them to keep their Wi-Fi turned on when possible to keep data usage from counting against their monthly plan.

For most smartphone and tablet users, not surprisingly, data usage is skyrocketing as they rely increasingly on their devices for Web and app access. Nielsen research released in mid-2011 found that average smartphone data usage was up 89% to 435MB in Q1 from Q1 2010, though mercifully, prices had dropped 46%.

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