AT&T Will Pay You $15/Mo To Skip The Upgrade

Dave Zatz —  January 16, 2014


The end of smartphone subsidies may be upon us, given T-Mobile’s uncarrier moves and AT&T’s new Mobile Share Value plan:

With the ‘No Annual Service Contract’ options, smartphone customers can save $15 a month on Mobile Share Value plans. Customers can receive these monthly savings when they: Get a new smartphone for no down payment with AT&T Next; bring their own smartphone; purchase a smartphone at full retail price; or when their smartphone is no longer under contract and they switch to the new plans.

Indeed, my mom received a letter from AT&T illustrating some of their new offerings. And, as CTO of the Zatz family, I reviewed her service and usage… then flipped the account to a new Mobile Share Value plan, cutting her bill nearly in half from $85 a month down to $45. The savings come via two mechanisms. First, given her limited data usage due to iPhone 4 screen size, I was able to put her on a tier that replaces 900 minutes with unlimited talk (and adds unlimited texts) but restricts data access to a mere 300mb. (I imagine many of her generation remain more interested in using phones for voice.) Oddly, the additional savings is not reflected as you’re evaluating plans, but only after you enroll – and an out-of-contract phone reduces the advertised monthly fee by $15.


The ultimate plan is to move Mom onto my T-Mobile account (unlimited voice and text, with 500MB of data for a mere $10/mo). But given some planned drives thru/to more rural areas this winter (where TMo probably won’t offer the best coverage), the AT&T maneuver buys some time while saving a few bucks.

11 responses to AT&T Will Pay You $15/Mo To Skip The Upgrade

  1. I’d consider it — if they let me keep my grandfathered unlimited data. I don’t care about unlimited voice or unlimited text – I never use close to my monthly minutes (let alone roll-over) and don’t text (as iMessage gives me free data texts to most and Xfinity app gives me unlimited texting to anyone else). I don’t even normally use all that much data, but want it for odd cases (such as when my Xfinity cable went down last Sunday a few hours after power went out and I ended up using Slingbox to stream football games). I’d even consider a limited data plan (2GB) if they let data roll-over like voice minutes…

    Somehow I don’t see that happening :(.

  2. So… if you agree to avoid getting a new iPhone at the end of your 2-year contract, you save $15/month in direct savings. Over the following two years that would net you $360, which together with $199 out of pocket would get you to $559, about $90 shy of the retail price of the entry-level iPhone you’d get for that $199.

    Of course keeping an iPhone for 4 years would mean that just before the iPhone 5S was introduced, in August of 2013, you’d still be on an iPhone 3GS. Still on iOS 5 presumably since I have a feeling (haven’t researched it) that you wouldn’t want to update it to iOS 6. Probably some apps that wouldn’t run on it, but not awful. Suspect the battery wouldn’t be holding much of a charge after 4 years. I think they estimate you lose about 20% of the battery life after 400 cycles, so after four years you’d be well under 50% of the original battery life. And of course there’s a chance it wouldn’t work at all.

    Replacing the battery isn’t that expensive, but will make this comparison look worse.

    If you bought an iPhone 4 when it came out in June of 2010, you’d be looking to this September presumably to upgrade, perhaps to the new bigger screen model we all assume is coming. That one feels a little better actually. Not undoable. Well except for that whole battery thing.

    I’m not convinced this really works out for iPhone users. For Android phones of course, something like the new Motorola or Nexus 4 that are available for full retail prices that are a lot lower, it makes more sense. And of course that might be where we’re headed…

  3. Right, I agree with Glenn here. Until they do away with subsidies, this doesn’t seem like a great deal for iPhone users since the subsidy AT&T gives you to buy the iPhone is $450. That’s $18.75. To switch over to the value plan would actually cost me $3.75 a month, plus I’d be on the hook for paying the upfront cost of the iPhone that instead AT&T is allowing me to pay in installations at what amounts to a negative interest rate (in comparison to the $15 proposed savings per month.). Therefore, until that $15 discount goes up to $20 or $25 a month, I’m not switching plans.

  4. The problem with AT&T is that they’ll always tout the new wonderful plan they have and, if you look at the details, it’s not so great. It’s always some idiot game.

    Mostly what they’ve done with mobile sharing, which I think was introduced a year ago, is to make, was to give you unlimited voice and text for $40/mo and then make data really expensive on to of that BUT you can add your tablet or other phones on for $20/mo or $40/mo. So, if you’re in a house with a wife and 4 kids then it may work to your advantage.

    The latest game is to try to get you over to that ‘mobile share’ plan but by offering you a $15 discount on their, otherwise, already overpriced plan. It looks good if you’re that person who does 300MB or less. I don’t think the average person does that. I do near to under 1GB each month, and that’s without thinking about it. My daughters do quite a bit more. The problem is that we’re all still buying that voice/text, even though it’s unlimited, that we don’t really use.

    About a year ago I needed a hotspot. Can’t just use my 3GB plan for a hotspot with 3GB because AT&T won’t let me (ugh -it’s so stupid), so I bump it up to a 5GB plan. I work with that for a week and then I no longer need the hotspot so I take it back down to the 3GB plan. Now, keep in mind that I said above that I’m only using 1GB, normally, of my data. Each month I’m pretty much forced to buy 2GB of data that I’ll never use. Sure, it’s nice if it’s there but, month to month, I’m not using it. So, anyway, I tried to downgrade and they took the 3GB plan away. It was looking like I was stuck on the 5GB plan. So, if I had left it I’m not paying $50/month, just for data to buy 4GB of data that I’ll never use plus the $40/mo plan of 400min of voice that I never use (it’s rare when it crosses 60min in a month but sometimes it goes up to 100min) and the $20 for unlimited SMS even though I use iMessage and the number of messages that actually go out via SMS is incredibly small, but.. it’s just large enough to make it where you save $5 if you go for unlimited SMS. It’s all this insane game to force you to buy what you don’t need.

    So, anyway, I was pretty annoyed at this point and called them up and politely told them, “You know, I’m tired of your practice of these games that force me to buy more than I need all the while you’re telling me what a great value it all is. I’m at the point to where I’d just assume pay you out on the contract and go elsewhere.”

    Well, they actually worked with me. I got put on a $30/mo 300min plan (still with rollover – though it makes no difference.. essentially it’s all ‘unlimited’ based on my use), $10 for SMS, and $50 for the 5GB plan.. That kept me on 5GB BUT reduced the phone/SMS by $20/mo. Overall I was at the point where I was paying what I was paying before, but now I had more data. I made sure this wasn’t some stupid 1-year deal and they assured me it was a normal, unpublicized plan, and I thought, “5GB is more than I need, but I’m back where I was and, I bet, after a few months, I’ll be able to put it back at 3GB.” Anyway, a month or so later I was able to bump it back down to 3GB at $30 so then my bill was $70/mo (plus the idiot taxes and fees).

    Anyway, when the $45 deal came up I thought, “Oh, that might be for me!” I sort of figured that it wasn’t but I did check it out. $45 would get me unlimited voice/SMS + 300MB of data. OK.. I know I’m going to use more than 300MB.. Let’s bump it up. To get 1GB my total bill would be $65. To get 2GB it would be $75. Basically, they’ve taken expensive data and made it more expensive with these shared plans. My current non-Mobile Share plan has 3GB of data at $30 and 5GB of data at $50. Their Mobile Share plans have 2GB at $55 and 4GB at $70.

    I could see something like this paying off for Grandma, but not for your average user.

    I like them as a carrier as my phone just works wherever I am. Their customer service is nice and all that. I hate their marketing dept because it’s always this bizarre carnival game and it’s always some “great deal” that, when you look at it, is going to cost you more (for most folks). I also hate the carnival game of “can’t have a hotspot on 3GB of data but can on 5GB of data” as if the amount of data you buy really makes any difference to them. It’s just always a stupid game…

  5. My mom has reached grandma age, values voice over data and rarely upgrades… so it worked for her. ;) But, yeah, not all plans (or marketed benefits) will work for all. And ZNF regulars are particularly geeky and savvy – they won’t often pull the wool over our eyes. As for me, I’ll be saving no money. iPhone 5S since prior to CES, expecting to flip for Galaxy S5 in April, then flip again again in October for iPhone 6. Good thing these retain high resale value.

  6. Oh – Should have added this:

    I’ve had AT&T for about 4 years and the service works and I have the MicroCell and really like it in my apartment.

    I had T-Mobile for around 10 years before swapping to AT&T and, like I said, the service availability was a problem for me. Even when I moved I wouldn’t get enough signal or I’d have signal but their cell tower was overbooked and I’d get “only emergency calls are allowed at this time.”

    Other than that T-Mobile’s plans always made sense to me and never gave me the ‘carnival game’ feeling. If you finish your contract they were always happy to move you to a non-subsidized contract. Buy a phone outright? Just use their non-subsidized plans. No games. Their customer service was always exceptionally polite, etc.

    So, if you’re thinking about switching, either way, consider that.

  7. Well, I recently switched to VZ after a long time of chafing at AT&T’s active mistreatment of their customers–dragging their heals on new features that every other carrier had for a year before they got around to supporting it, no tethering, no unlocking SIM slots, bullshit left and right. I knew I’d be paying more for VZ, and I know they’re serious assholes too but figured I’d get better coverage and better voice quality.

    Honestly, the data coverage here in SF Bay Area isn’t better. The speeds aren’t better. I do appreciate the clarity of their plans. And their voice quality is HEAD OVER TAILS better than AT&T’s (iPhone 4S to 5S so I think pretty comparable). And of course minor things like the unlocked SIM slot etc.

    I wish I could switch to T-Mobile, since they’re the only disruptive force in the space right now, and I agree we should all give them our dollars if we can. But their coverage just isn’t there from talking to people I work with. Maybe that’ll improve in the coming years.

  8. Yep – T-Mobile would have my money if it wasn’t for the need of coverage. I stick with AT&T over Verizon because of the, “you can get data while you’re in the middle of a voice call,”-bit (GSM over CDMA (or whatever Verizon uses)). Still, I need that feature.

  9. The cell phone plans are starting to be as individualized as diet and exercise plans. Here in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, AT&T and Verizon are quite strong, although Verizon has deeper LTE coverage. Sprint is also surprisingly good in Minnesota, even outstate. T-Mobile is pretty good in the metro area, but fades quickly outside of that.

    I’m a flight instructor, and spend many weekends landing at small airports. Great way to test coverage. A decade ago Verizon and Sprint had the best outstate coverage. Not AT&T has caught up, at least for basic voice and 3G coverage.

    I’m on a well discounted AT&T plan now. If that discount goes away, I’ll have to “change my diet.”

  10. it costs $10-$20 more a month to go on the contract-free plans than to get a $40 line+data and 2yr contract

    no contract: $25+$20 for 300MB data + $24.65 for a Galaxy S4 = $69.65
    contract: $40+$20 for 300MB data = $60

  11. RJ your math doesn’t reflect my mom’s situation… She’s paying $45/mo and that’s it. I updated the post with a screengrab for clarity. She’s had her phone longer than 2 years, which is why the numbers work — plus it’s not either/or, start subsidized then go without while we’re in this transition.