True report: AT&T just doubled mobile data prices

(Updated 6/3) As I’m sure you’ve read all over today, AT&T announced major changes to its wireless data plans. But, I think because AT&T’s iPhone plan differed from other plans it offered, the reporting of these changes has been a little wacky. AT&T may have eliminated its “unlimited” data plan for the iPhone but it did not have unlimited plans for other devices. Those with non-iPhone devices and phones faced a cap of 5 gigabytes a month, similar to limits imposed by Sprint and Verizon on virtually all of their customers.

Under the new plan, which applies to the iPhone and all other AT&T phones, the maximum offering is 2 gigabytes for $25 a month with $10 charged for each extra gigabyte of data. Compared to the typical 5 GB offering, the price would be $25 plus $30 or $55 a month. iPad customers really get the shaft, as they were getting 5 GB per month for $30 and now that much data is $55.

The other option is $15 for 200 megabytes with $15 charged for each additional 200 MB. I checked my iPhone data usage over the past six months and darn it if the average wasn’t 221 MB. Right back to $30 a month. Hmm.

Among other implication for heavy data users or people with both an iPhone and an iPad, the strategy of Internet smarty Rex Hammock to pair a mobile wifi hot spot like Sprint’s Overdrive with other portable devices looks a little smarter.

One of the few sharp analysis pieces I read on today’s move was Dan Frommer’s observation: AT&T Just Put A Bullet In Mobile TV. I suspect that the future of mobile broadband-delivered video will be a return to the wireless carrier’s anti-innovation, walled garden strategy. Verizon already offers its V-CAST 10-channel/$15 a month service. AT&T’s less advanced (or maybe just less publicized) service called Mobile TV costs $10/month for a smattering of shows from seven networks.

Just a couple of week ago, the Federal Communications Commission in its annual assessment of wireless phone industry reported a decline in competition due to consolidation. Now we can test the accuracy of that verdict. Will Verizon and Sprint cut back 5 GB plans to 2 GB? Let’s hope not.

Addendum: Speaking the night before the price hike was announced, Apple CEO Steve Jobs cryptically said he expected the problem of congestion on AT&T’s wireless network would get worse before it got better. Maybe he was implying that the new 2 GB limit will only last until AT&T gets its network in order. Fourth generation wireless broadband is already available in some places from Sprint and coming “real soon now” from AT&T and Verizon. Hopefully, data allowances will rise again.

UPDATE: Uber Mac blogger John Gruber offers his own analysis and he is particularly peeved about the new $20 charge for tethering (which lets you use your iPhone as a 3G modem for your laptop). The extra 20 bucks doesn’t come with any extra data — you’re still stuck using up the same 2 gigabytes.

There’s a small blind spot in Gruber’s analysis of the Hammock Mifi/iPad strategy, however. With a 3G iPad, you’re stuck with AT&T’s generally horrific network. With a Mifi, you can get online via Verizon. So the trade-off of longer login time and shorter battery life may be more than offset for many folks who can’t rely on AT&T’s network.