Pogue asks AT&T about iPhone 3G calling plans

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Nothing we didn’t already know, but it’s nice to have most of the answers in one place for us all to refer to if need be.

Q: Does the new $70 iPhone plan include any text messages?

A: No. This is our standard pricing for 3G PDA’s and smartphones. It’s a combined voice and unlimited data plan. The data portion is $30. It does not include text messages, which are extra. Data pricing reflects the fact that customers with these devices tend to use a lot of data.

Q: What do text messages cost, then?

A: You pay an additional $5 a month for 200 messages, $15 for 1500 messages, or $20 for unlimited text messages. Once again, this is identical to what we charge for text messaging on all our PDA’s and smartphones.

Q: Why is the business rate more expensive than the standard iPhone rate?

A: Business pricing for the iPhone is $45 for unlimited data, plus a voice plan. Business customers tend to be heavier users of data than consumers, and we price our service accordingly.

Q: Does AT&T offer one of those “unlimited” $100-a-month plans, like its rivals, for the iPhone?

A: Yes, we do. The plan is $100 a month for unlimited calling. To that, you add $30 for unlimited data usage and whatever text messaging you want.

Q: What happens if you already have an iPhone and want the new one?

A: Current iPhone customers are eligible to upgrade to the iPhone 3G. All you have to do is bring your old iPhone to the store and get the new one activated. By the way, since the original iPhone is still a terrific device, you can give it, for example, to a family member or a friend and they can reactivate it for service. Among other things, the 2G [original] iPhone can use the new iPhone 2.0 software, connect to Apple’s new applications store, and of course get music, podcasts and more from iTunes. It will continue to work on AT&T’s Edge network.

Q: Is there any discount if you have more than one iPhone?

A: No.

Q: What about the family plans?

A: As you might expect, our family talk plans are available on the iPhone 3G. All you do is add the unlimited data plan to the new iPhone and you are good to go.

Q: What’s the early-termination fee?

A: It is the same early termination fee we charge other customers—namely, $175. As you may know, we put a new policy in place effective May 25. New and renewing customers on or after that date have their early termination fee reduced by $5 for each month of their service agreement. (Prior to that, the fee was a flat $175, whether you were 2 months or 22 months into your contract.)

Q: How does the iPhone 3G plan pricing compare with, say, the Treo or BlackBerry plans?

A: Exactly the same as on our other PDA’s and smartphones.

Q: What are the international options?

A: We suggest that our iPhone 3G and other wireless customers always call us before traveling outside the United States, so we can suggest pricing plans to meet their needs and save them money:

* For $6 a month, the AT&T World Traveler plan offers significant discounts off standard roaming rates when calling from 85 countries. Calls from most countries in Europe, for example, are just $1/minute vs. the standard rate of $1.30/minute.

* There are two international data plans for iPhone customers: $25/month for 20 MB of data in 41 countries, or $60/month for 50 MB of data in 41 countries.

We can also offer simple tips on how to minimize unexpected charges, including turning off data roaming when you are outside the United States, if that is what you would like to do.

Q: So have we officially seen an end to the unwitting $6000 phone bills from people who took their iPhones overseas?

A: If customers will follow the steps I described in the previous answer, this kind of unexpected “surprise” should be minimized. In fact, our Web site offers some tips for iPhone customers about using the device outside the United States.

Q: What improvements have been made to the AT&T network coverage since a year ago, when it got such terrible Consumer Reports rankings?

A: There is a lot of good news on this front. First of all, the iPhone works on AT&T’s ultra-fast 3G wireless network, which can deliver typical download speeds of up to 1.4 mbps. No carrier offers faster data speeds. We still have plenty of room left to increase data speeds even further on our 3G network. We could see maximum speeds next year as high as 20 mbps, for example. We don’t have to rush to the next generation of wireless technology. Some of our competitors have to move quickly to 4G because their 3G technology doesn’t allow them to increase speeds further.

We have already deployed our 3G network to more than 280 metropolitan areas in the United States, and plan to be in 350 by the end of this year. In addition, over the last four years we have invested some $20 billion to improve our wireless network.

Finally, a word on Consumer Reports: it surveys opinions, and that is certainly fine. But it does not measure actual network performance.

Q: Since you have to activate the iPhone 3G in the AT&T store now, won’t that create massive lines for days?

A: We don’t think so. It goes without saying that we are anticipating heavy demand for the new iPhone, and our stores will be ready for it. We estimate that activation should take about 15 minutes. We have lots of experience with long lines and will be very well prepared.

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