Analyst: AT&T tweaks prepaid, requires $25 plan for data access

AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) is making changes to its GoPhone prepaid plans by requiring that customers who want data access sign up for plans that start at $25 instead of cheaper pay-as-you-go plans, according to research firm Current Analysis.

According to Current Analysis, smartphone users on AT&T's GoPhone 10 cents per minute pay-as-you-go or $2 daily plans will not be allowed to opt for the carrier's prepaid data packages starting April 18. Consumers who want to opt for the monthly data add-ons need to be subscribed to a prepaid monthly voice plan from the carrier starting at $25 per month. AT&T charges 1 cent per 5 KB of data on its prepaid plans or tells customers to purchase data packages. Prepaid customers can buy data add-on packages of $5 for 10 MB, $15 for 100 MB or $25 for 500 MB.

An AT&T spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In addition to the $25 plan, which has 250 voice minutes and unlimited messaging, AT&T also offers a $50 prepaid monthly unlimited plan, which offers unlimited data access.

For the most part, Current Analysis said the move is a positive one for AT&T. Current Analysis analyst Deepa Karthikeyan wrote in a report that the move "will help the carrier earn a greater percentage of predictable revenue from this segment. AT&T was the only carrier to offer the benefits of a data package to its pay-as-you-go smartphone users, so its withdrawal should not result in too many negative reactions from its users. However, there are daily plan options that include different forms of unlimited Web access available at rival carriers, which might impact the carrier if its users decide that it is not worth spending north of $30 per month on a prepaid plan that can only offer them up to 10 MB of data access."

Despite the upsides for AT&T, Karthikeyan wrote that AT&T 's decision may present problems because it robs AT&T of its unique factor in the prepaid segment, especially among Tier 1 carriers, and the decision may lead to higher immediate prepaid churn. Additionally, the 1 cent per 5 KB option is "not a viable solution for moderate-to-high data users, compelling them to opt for a $25 monthly plan at the minimum," according to Karthikeyan.

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Correction, April 16, 2011: This article incorrectly stated what data packages are available to AT&T prepaid customers. Prepaid customers can buy data add-on packages of $5 for 10 MB, $15 for 100 MB or $25 for 500 MB.