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May 07, 2008

AT&T Prepaid 3G Data

by Matthew


Earlier this week AT&T began offering unlimited data on a prepaid basis. For a flat rate of $19.99 per month AT&T Prepaid users can select unlimited data. Better yet this data package takes advantage of their 3G network. On Friday I purchased the cheapest mobile I could find at a local store, a Motorola C168i. The phone comes with a SIM and $10 credit. I would have preferred another phone and if you have the patience or time I would recommend of the online specials. An added bonus AT&T currently gives a bonus $10 credit when $25 or more is added within 7 days of activation.

When I first began testing speeds AT&T appeared they might be throttling speeds however turned out due to a poor or at least a weak signal quality at home (so much for more bars in more places). My signal in my home has varied from full bars to nothing, even 2 blocks away I lost the signal for more than 2 minutes. At the office where I'll use it most, fortunately I have a good signal and see speeds ranging from 600 to 700kbps. Many places around town I see 400+kbps, although I have found plenty of holes in AT&T's 3G network where the connection reverts back to EDGE. In my case both home and office are quite populated areas near north and east Fort Worth, Texas.

All prepaid feature packages need to be renewed by calling 611 monthly, at a minimum. AT&T uses an automatic voice recognition (AVR) system for subscribers to manage prepaid feature packages and options. In addition to this unlimited data option AT&T offers unlimited messaging and 3,000 night and weekend minutes each for $19.99 per month for prepaid accounts. If unlimited is too much, lower usage packages are available for those needing a bit less. Surprisingly none of the feature packages are advertised or manageable online. Subscribers need not wait an entire month or for the package to expire to renew. Regular prepaid rates go in effect on expired feature packages until re-added. "Pick Your Plan" subscribers can convert to "Pay as You Go" to take advantage of these offerings by calling customer service.

Changes I would suggest for AT&T: Offering reoccurring subscriptions and disabling balance notifications. I'd happily setup auto-billing for this data package. AT&T offers auto-recharging, taking it a step further with auto-billing is a logical step to further simplify the process not to mention ensure steadier subscriber rates. The balance notification after disconnecting from data use and following sending or receiving of messages for unlimited feature packages is useless and annoying. These notices are helpful for some people and in some cases but an annoyance on an unlimited feature package.

It's good to see real options becoming available for prepaid customers here in the US. When in Spain, this past February, I purchases a Yoigo SIM and used data for a mere €1.39 per day (including VAT) and in the UK prepaid data can be had for as little as £1 per day, both unlimited. In many counties prepaid is seen as a real viable option for offering mobile services, many offering pricing and features on par with post-paid (contract) plans. Prepaid subscribers in the US on the other hand are frequently treated as second class mobile citizens not worthy of respect for the money they spend or deserving of services beyond the basics.

Could these new offerings be a change in thinking by mobile carriers in the US? We can hope. Prepaid isn't a dirty seven letter word reserved for people with poor or no credit. Prepaid can be a valuable tool to control costs for adult and kids alike, a viable option for travelers to avoid excessive roaming rates and customers not wanting to lock themselves into a commitment or cost of a traditional rate plan. For me offerings such as these can serve as a valuable and viable alternative. Not only do I have to option of experimenting with different services on different carriers I am increasingly finding myself using fewer and fewer voice minutes while my message and data usage increases.

With unlimited data and messaging packaging I even went so far as analyzing my own usage, seeing if my post-paid account was actually necessary. If these trends continue it may not be long before that becomes a reality. For now the best I can do is suggest looking at these options and consider  if prepaid might be a better fit.


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Woah, this is great for the occasional user, like someone who only wants data when traveling. Can these "go phones" be tethered to a laptop? Are all of them 3G? I have a Nokia N95-1 (unlocked -- I know, not 3G). Can a go phone SIM be moved into it, or is the SIM itself locked to their go phones?


@weave Honestly I did not even bother looking for a GoPhone that supports DUN (Dial Up Networking). I didn't need or want an additional phone. AT&T does offer higher priced phones, one of them are bound to have bluetooth or USB DUN. As far as I know if you have a 3G (UTMS or HSDPA handset) it is available. The SIMs AT&T sells are no different from the ones they sell for postpaid accounts, they are simply tied to the prepaid system. In fact if you call Customer Service a prepaid account can be converted to a postpaid one. I have a Nokia N95-3, only requiring the SIM. This answers your other question. As far as I know there isn't such a thing as a provider locked SIM, only subsidy locked mobile devices. If the mobile device is unlocked (meaning it can accept a SIM from any provider) then you are good to go.


Wow this is great news for a person like myself who uses more data than voice and even if i did, i will make voip call over 3G. Shhhh you heard nothing.
I will seriously consider this when my contract expires Oct this year.


Can you detail the plan you have and how did you signup (web/ATT store)? i do not see $19.99 data option for prepaid user on ATT website. Thanks!


Thanks for the info. My nephew got a razr go phone a few weeks ago and I was playing with it then. It has bluetooth but it's pretty crippled. Couldn't send/receive pics via it. He's about 200 miles from me so next time I visit him I'll have to try to tether via USB or Bluetooth to see if I can get it to work (after adding the $20 package)


@Abdullah See the third paragraph ;)


Now that is weird, i just hung up talking to ATT CS but before i was connected to the CSR the IVR was playing a message saying "prepaid customers can no longer add internet feature". I still pressed 0, talked to CSR and she said you can not add unlimited internet for 19.99 anymore.

any ideas? did they recently drop that?


@Abdullah I just called 611 said features packages, then MediaNet. The system stated there were 3 options: 1MB, 5MB or Unlimited. Sounds like the rule of 3 applies here. Rule of 3: Call customer service 3 times, two out of three times will give you the correct answer.

Aussie Tim

Hi All,

Tim from Australia, here. How are you all enjoying the USA performances at the Olympics? That Phelps bloke is a freak!

Hoping someone can give me a hand. I've got a friend travelling to the USA for three months, and he'll be taking his brand spanking new unlocked HTC Diamond (complete with ROM update for lovely HSDPA on 850Mhz frequency). I don't want him using his Australian provider SIM in the USA due to extortionary international roaming data rates ($15/1Mb). I'm therefore looking to a pre-paid SIM for voice and data, provided locally by one of your carriers.

Judging by this thread, it would seem that AT&T might be the go, but I can't see any useful information on their website regarding pre-paid data.

Can anyone assist me with some info which can direct my mate when he lands? Apart from me telling him to hop to the nearest AT&T store, I'm struggling to be of use. Hoping someone here can lend a hand.

Thanks all,


@tim nothing has changed, AT&T is the only prepaid gsm data option in the USA. 19.99 is a good bargin, especially for prepaid..


Will this work with a HSDPA USB modem if I get an AT&T sim card?


@AZ there's no reason it shouldn't, USB modems are just mobile phones for your pc.

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