Which is better for consumers, Verizon’s unlimited data plan for the Droid X announced June 23 or AT&T’s capped plans for the iPhone? This simple question is surprisingly difficult to answer beyond “it depends.” But here’s the math.
Verizon charges $30 a month for unlimited data on the Droid X. When I asked chief marketing officer John Stratton if that was truly unlimited, he said “it starts on the first day of the month and goes to the end.” I take that to be a “yes.” You can also use your Droid X as a Wi-Fi hotspot, like a MiFi, for up to five other devices. That will cost an additional $20 a month and is limited to 2 GB. The big catch is if you go over that limit. Anything extra is 5 cents per megabyte. That means your first two gigabytes will cost you $10 each, but a third will set you back $50.
Over at AT&T, iPhone users can choose between 200 MB a month for $15 or 2 GB for $25. The iPhone doesn’t offer a hotspot feature. But you can use your iPhone as a tethered modem for your laptop (bot not your iPad) for $20 a month. All data sent through the tethered modem counts against your cap. But the good news is that AT&T has gotten rid of those punitive overage charges. Additional gigabytes cost just $10 each.
Very light data users who don’t want to tether win with AT&T’s 200 MB plan. Heavy users who don’t use the hotspot option do well with Verizon’s unlimited plan though, in truth, even heavy iPhone users will be hard pressed to hit 2 GB a month unless they watch an awful lot of video, none of it on Wi-Fi.
The comparative challenge comes in when you are using your phone as a modem or hotspot for a laptop. Laptops can gobble data at alarming rates, and the faster the wireless networks get, the more dangerous they become. It’s easy to blow through 2 GB in a month; I’ve done it in a day, though never on a 3G connection. Although tethering is a technology much inferior to the hotspot connection, AT&T’s plan is really more attractive here. It really functions more like a prepaid plan in which you can top up in 1 GB increments as needed than a traditional capped plan.
Of course, then there’s the question of the choice between the iPhone and the Droid X. But that’s another story.