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Consumer Reports: AT&T's new iPhone data plan won't cost you more

By John D. Sutter, CNN
AT&T will eliminate its "unlimited" data plan on Monday, but that may not be bad for most consumers.
AT&T will eliminate its "unlimited" data plan on Monday, but that may not be bad for most consumers.
  • AT&T eliminates "unlimited" data plans on its network
  • That may be bad news for heavy data consumers
  • But Consumer Reports says most people will be unaffected or will save money
  • However, that may change as smartphones continue to gobble more data

(CNN) -- When AT&T announced this week that it would end its unlimited, all-you-can-download data plan for the iPhone and iPad, the refrain from the tech world went something like this:

"OMG! More monthly charges!?!?!"

The Wall Street Journal says the change may drive some customers away from the iPhone and to smartphones on other networks. Writing for Computer World, Matt Hamblen says AT&T "could be compared to a warlord arriving in a savage land and laying down basic rules for sharing a limited, vital resource -- something as basic as water or available hunting grounds."

It's true that people who spend tons of time uploading and downloading photos and videos from their mobile devices may have to pay more under the change.

But, according to a survey from Consumer Reports, the majority of iPhone users will either pay the same amount or actually save money under this new AT&T data regime.

Right now, AT&T charges subscribers $30 per month for unlimited data -- meaning the person who uploads 100 videos to YouTube per month pays the same as the person who only checks e-mail every now and then. Starting on Monday, however, new AT&T customers have to choose between two new data plans, neither of which has the "unlimited" data option.

The lighter-weight of the new plans gives mobile users 200 megabytes of data per month for $15. The "DataPro" plan gives people 2 gigabytes of data -- about 10 times more -- for $25 per month. Under both plans, AT&T charges customers extra if they go over their limits. See the full plan descriptions for more details.

Consumer Reports says most AT&T smartphone customers don't use that much data -- so, in theory, they would save money on this change.

The nonprofit group's electronics blog explains:

"The average iPhone user consumes 273 MB of data per month, according to the unique data on iPhone usage reported a few months ago by colleague Jeff Blyskal. More than half of owners use less than 200 MB per month, that data reveals," the blog post says. "The new $15 iPhone plan provides 200 MB per month, and so would cut data costs in half for the majority of iPhone owners."

In an interview with CNN, Mike Gikas, Consumer Reports' senior editor for electronics and technology, said these benefits may not last forever.

The trend is for people to use more and more data. As phones add higher-resolution cameras and as video on the mobile web becomes higher quality, data may get expensive under these caps, he said.

"With every generation of smartphones, the data usage goes up," he said.

Apple is expected to announce a new version of the iPhone on Monday, and it's been rumored the new iPhone will have a higher-resolution camera.

One key to this new data system is understanding how much data you use. AT&T has posted a data calculator to help consumers with this. Or to see how much data you actually use on your iPhone, go into "Settings," click on "General," and then select "Usage" from the menu. At the bottom of the page, you'll see how much data you have sent and received since you last reset the stats.

You could reset everything and wait a month to see what your monthly data usage might look like. AT&T says 98 percent of its smartphone customers use less than 2GB of data per month, on average.

People who already have unlimited data plans on AT&T don't have to worry about any of this, because their current contracts will stay valid, AT&T says. But they can opt to switch to one of the cheaper, data-limited plans without having to sign a contract extension, the company says.

So what do you think? Is this a good deal or not? Let us know in the comments, or hit us up on our Twitter feed -- @cnntech.