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AT&T unveils new low-cost family plan

6:33 PM, Feb 1, 2014   |    comments
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(USA TODAY) - AT&T chose Super Bowl eve to announce what the carrier insists is a new super pricing deal for families. Under the plan that kicks in on Sunday, a family of four can get unlimited text and talk, plus 10 gigabytes of shared data, for $160 a month. AT&T says that's a $100 monthly savings compared to a comparable family plan on Verizon Wireless.

Prices under the new AT&T plan actually start at $130 a month for a family with two smartphones, and climb to $175 monthly for a clan with five phones. Each additional line costs $15.

In all cases, you get the same 10GB of data with unlimited talk and text, with overage fees if you exhaust that data bucket. The plan extends to current AT&T customers (including small businesses with up to 10 lines), or folks who switch from rival wireless carriers. You can buy a new phone on a payment plan, AT&T says, with no annual service contract and nothing down, or bring your own device.

Though AT&T Chief Marketing Officer David Christopher says AT&T will not run a Super Bowl ad tied specifically to this new pricing deal, "we do think Super Bowl weekend is a great time for families and to launch an offer focused on families."

AT&T and BeatsMusic are teaming on an unrelated Super Bowl ad with Ellen DeGeneres.

AT&T's latest pricing deal comes at a time of forceful change in the industry. Rival T-Mobile in particular has been hammering away at AT&T with aggressive pricing plans and bold "Uncarrier" moves - doing away with contracts, paying early termination fees if you switch to their network, and so on.

"AT&T's change in pricing bucks the recent trend in the mobile industry by offering the best deal to existing customers," says Jan Dawson, an industry analyst with Jackdaw. "With all the effort currently going into getting customers to switch, AT&T's moves seem to be geared towards keeping existing customers first and foremost. This is clearly a response to the aggressive price moves from competitors, especially T-Mobile, over the last several months."

AT&T is not covering other carriers' termination fees to lure defectors as part of its new offering. But it is for a limited time issuing a $100 bill credit for each new line added under the offer, a promotion that extends beyond cellphones to tablets, mobile hot spots or AT&T Wireless Home Phones.

"We're building smartphones to be the remote control of your life on AT&T," Christopher says. "The ability to offer families a more affordable way than ever to be with AT&T with their smartphones is a great long-term play for us. And it sets us up really nicely to go into all these new businesses," including the connected home and connected car. "There's no question it's a competitive industry, and AT&T is going to compete aggressively. But it's about skating to where the puck is going."

Analyst Dawson says the move reflects "a continuation of several major trends in the U.S. mobile industry: more intense competition as the market saturates and the two smaller national carriers starting to become more aggressive, a shift to data rather than voice and messaging, and a move away from subsidies."

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