On July 18 AT&T unveiled its Mobile Share plans. Starting in August, new and existing customers will be able to sign up for a Mobile Share plan which allows them to share one bucket of data with several different devices including smartphones, tablets, laptops, and anything else that needs a data connection. The plans also include unlimited voice minutes and unlimited texts.

Anyone familiar with Verizon’s Share Everything plans, which were announced on June 28, might notice some similarities. AT&T is obviously reacting to Verizon, but the AT&T Mobile Share plans are not identical. One thing they do have in common is that they are a little confusing. Which plan should you go for? What extras do you need? Do you have to change from your current plan?

Let’s take a closer look and attempt to explain AT&T’s Mobile Share plans in detail.

After you’ve learned about the Mobile Share plan check out our picks for the best AT&T phones.

What has changed?

The new Mobile Share plans are basically all about data. The days of unlimited data are well and truly gone. Our smartphones and other mobile devices are demanding more and more data as they improve and the networks get faster. From browsing the web to streaming movies, data is in demand and the carriers want you to pay for it. The new plans give you a data allowance that can be shared across up to ten devices.

On the plus side you can now talk and text as much as you want. All the Mobile Share plans include unlimited voice minutes and unlimited texts. In the past you may have paid for minutes and texts and had unlimited data included, that has effectively been reversed.

Here’s an example from AT&T to illustrate.

Why the change?

In simple terms this change has come about because AT&T will make more money this way. It is also about following Verizon’s lead. The Share Everything plans that Verizon is offering are very similar. People are using more data and less voice minutes and texts. By charging for tiered data plans and widening the allowance to include other devices carriers will make more profit.

Crucially the tiered data system will also take the pressure off the network as demand grows and grows. All the major carriers have dropped the idea of unlimited data. Even plans that claimed to offer unlimited data actually have a fair usage policy which is, in effect, a limit. By charging for data usage they can limit data usage and/or bring in the money they feel is required to support it.

How it works

I’m borrowing AJ Dellinger’s water analogy to explain this, as used in his Verizon’s Share Everything plan explained.

So think of data as water. Each AT&T customer has an empty cup at the start of the month and AT&T pours in the water (data). The amount customers get depends on how much they paid for. The basic amount of data breaks down like this.

  • 1GB – $40
  • 4GB – $70
  • 6GB – $90
  • 10GB – $120
  • 15GB – $160
  • 20GB – $200

To drink that water you’ll need a straw (smartphone) – you must have at least one to use one of AT&T’s Mobile Share plans. To complicate matters further that first straw will cost you different amounts depending on the amount of data you are purchasing. Take 1GB of data and you’ll pay $45 per month for the smartphone, 4GB and it’s $40, 6GB and it’s $35, 10GB and over appears to be a flat $30. The incentive to take more is clear.

You can also add as many as 9 more straws at varying monthly price points.

  • Basic & Messaging Phones – $30
  • Laptops, Laptop Connect Cards and Netbooks – $20
  • Tablets and Gaming Devices – $10

All the straws get dunked in the same cup and share your data allowance. If it’s gone before the end of the month then you can get a quick refill and keep drinking at the rate of $15 per GB.

This includes Mobile Hotspot functionality for capable smartphones and tablets at no extra cost. That means you can use your smartphone or tablet as a Wi-Fi hotspot for other capable devices to connect to.

You can also access any of AT&T’s Wi-Fi Hot Spots at no additional charge and it won’t count towards your monthly data allowance. That’s great if you have a Hot Spot near you (apparently there are more than 30,000 nationwide).

Sadly, there is no rollover on your data allowance so you’ll want to keep tabs on it and set up courtesy alerts so you know when your allowance is running low. You can use the myAT&T mobile app, or call *DATA# from your mobile phone to check your remaining allowance.

Who is affected?

At the moment the Mobile Share plans are optional so existing customers can stick with their current plans even if they upgrade. Starting in August, new and existing customers will have the choice of selecting a Mobile Share plan. Naturally, that could change in the future. Verizon is making its Share Everything plans the only option for new and upgrading customers. It wouldn’t be a huge shock if AT&T followed suit at some point.

Customers who use a lot of data on multiple devices could benefit from the new Mobile Share plans but for the most part if you need a lot of data you’re going to have to pay a lot of money for it. The Mobile Share plans will be great for customers who pay a premium for unlimited voice minutes right now. Families who can take advantage of the unlimited voice minutes and texts might find these new plans very attractive. Single people and customers who don’t use much data, voice minutes, or texts, are probably looking at a jump in their mobile bills if they sign up for one of these plans.

As David Christopher, chief marketing officer, AT&T Mobility says “With these new plans, the more you share, the more you save.”