Review: Unlimited & Mobile Share Plans by AT&T (Cellular Data Plans)

From the October 2017 release of our app 'Coverage? - showing HSPA+ and LTE coverage for AT&T.

AT&T is the nation's second-largest carrier, but in the LTE era it has seemingly always lagged a few steps behind Verizon.

But AT&T is often strongest in areas where Verizon is weak, and having both carriers on board can make for a very potent connectivity combination.

Coverage & Speed Notes

AT&T’s LTE network lags behind Verizon in coverage and speed, but AT&T’s older "4G" HSPA+ network actually rivaled Verizon’s legacy 3G network for coverage and blows it out of the water in performance.

In some of the very few remaining remote areas that have yet to be upgraded to LTE, AT&T is actually often king.

But in more populous areas, AT&T is rarely the fastest network around - often eclipsed by both Verizon and T-Mobile.

AT&T Plans & Features

The data-limited AT&T Mobile Share Advantage Plan was announced in August 2016, and remains available with shared pools of data available ranging from 1GB for $30/mo on up to 100GB for $520/mo. You then must pay a "line access charge" for every device sharing in the data - $20/mo for smartphones and hotspots, and $10/mo for tablets.

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AT&T also offers two unlimited data plans, each offering unlimited talk and text. The Unlimited Choice starts at $60/month for a single line but is capped at 3 mbps speeds and only includes SD video. Unlimited Plus start at $90/month for a single line and is at full speed, and smartphone & tablet lines include 10GB of high speed mobile hotspot data.

Here's an overview of AT&T's current plan policies and perks:

  • AT&T Stream Saver & HD Video: Many AT&T plans (even unlimited) now come with the Stream Saver featured enabled by default, which throttles video streams to 480p "DVD Quality" resolution so that streaming video uses less data. This feature can be manually turned off to enable full-resolution HD streaming on tiered data plans and Unlimited Plus.
  • Mobile Hotspot: All AT&T Advantage plans include mobile hotspot use, letting you share your metered data however you wish. Unlimited Plus plans include 10GB of high speed mobile hotspot use on smartphone and tablet plans, and internet only devices can be added with no mobile hotspot cap. Unlimited Choice plans do not include mobile hotspot as a feature on smartphones and tablets.
  • No Overage Charges: The Advantage plans drop to 2G (128kbps) speed when all the high-speed data allotment for the month is used up, avoiding overage charges.
  • Rollover Data: AT&T Advantage plans include Rollover Data.  If you don't use all of your allotted data in your current billing period, it rolls over to be used the next month. But you can not build up a balance - the unused data expires after just one month.
  • Unlimited DirecTV Streaming: AT&T owns DirecTV, and to encourage customers to sign up for both services streaming from the DirecTV app on a smartphone or tablet does not count against AT&T monthly data caps or towards network management thresholds on unlimited plans. Of course AT&T Unlimited customers can stream any video service desired, but usage does count towards network management thresholds..
  • Domestic Roaming: AT&T's network has a decent sized off-carrier roaming area, with domestic data roaming limited to 400MB per month. If you exceed that, your data access may be shut down until you are back on AT&T native towers.
  • International Roaming: AT&T's international features are a bit confusing.
    • Mexico: Mobile Share Advantage plans with 10GB+ of data can automatically be used just like in the US in Mexico, but not in Canada. Plans with less data get 1GB of high speed Mexican data, but the feature must be turned on in advance before a trip. However, if a customer uses more than 50% of their data in Canada or Mexico for two consecutive months, the feature may be removed.
    • Canada & Mexico: The AT&T Unlimited plans have a "Roam North America" feature that allows for free voice, text, and data roaming in Canada & Mexico. However, if a customer uses more than 50% of their data in Canada or Mexico for two consecutive months, the feature may be removed.
    • Rest of the World: With activation of the International Day Pass feature (no charge to activate), AT&T customers can use their existing plans and all of their plan's features (including high-speed unlimited data) for $10 per device per 24-hour period in over 100 countries. Note that the fine print indicates that this feature will be removed from the account if the majority of a  customer's usage is international for two months in a row.

NOTE:  AT&T's Unlimited plans are subject to "network management" once an unlimited customer has used more than 22GB on a line in a month. Once this threshold is reached, AT&T "may slow data speeds" during periods of network congestion.

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The Mobile Share Advantage Plan replaced AT&T's older Value plan - slightly changing around prices, while also eliminating the risk of overage charges. For most customers there was little downside to switching unless they had a special promotional rate locked in under the rules of the older plan.

If you do decide to keep a grandfathered Value plan active with AT&T, keep a close eye on your usage to avoid a rogue program racking up a huge overage bill.

AT&T Recommendation:

AT&T lags a bit behind the raw coverage of Verizon, and is often bested by the performance of T-Mobile.

However they currently offer the only unlimited data plan for internet only devices (such as mobile hotspots and Connect Car) with unlimited data only subject to network management. This makes them a very strong consideration as a component of a mobile internet setup.

AT&T's coverage is often strong in areas other carriers are particularly weak, such as in remote west Texas, the Florida Everglades or in some areas of the Alaskan wilderness. And when Verizon towers are saturated, often nearby AT&T towers are still steaming along.

Verizon and AT&T together make a particularly potent combination for those who are optimizing for the best possible cellular connectivity. And some nomads are choosing to give AT&T a try as their primary data network.

Recent AT&T News Stories:

Testing Status: We keep a 40GB AT&T Mobile Share Value Plan (that we share with a few low bandwidth family members, and obtained during their 'Double Data Deals') as our primary phone service, and back-up data.


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AT&T - Mobile Share Value Plan


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Quick Take

If keeping connected is important to you in your travels, AT&T direct plans are worthwhile considering as at least a secondary carrier, if not a primary for RVers.

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