AT&T counts 10M customers on tiered data plans

AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) now counts 10 million customers on its tiered data plans, said Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets. He said the figure is notable as customers on AT&T's tiered pricing structure offer a "better yield" in terms of per-megabyte transmission costs than those on unlimited plans.

Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets. "That's a very sustainable model," de la Vega said of tiered data pricing.

AT&T replaced its unlimited smartphone data plans last summer with a metered pricing structure; the carrier now charges $15 per month for 200 MB of data and $25 per month for 2 GB of data. All new or renewing AT&T subscribers must sign onto the plans.

Other major U.S. carriers have made hints that they too will move toward tiered pricing for smartphone data plans. Indeed, Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) will unveil tiered mobile data pricing plans this summer, Verizon Communications CFO Fran Shammo said this week--but Verizon is still figuring out what exactly those pricing plans will entail.

AT&T in December said it counted 7 million customers on its tiered data plans.

De la Vega disclosed the news during an appearance at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference. He also touched on a few other hot topics for AT&T:

Verizon iPhone: De la Vega said that "so far we haven't seen any surprises" from Verizon Wireless' launch of the Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone. He said the carrier expected an impact on its churn and net subscriber additions due to the launch, primarily in the first quarter. Not surprisingly, de la Vega didn't provide specifics, including how many subscribers may have left AT&T for the Verizon iPhone.

HSPA: "The network is performing better than what we expected," de la Vega said, noting that AT&T's HSPA+ network, coupled with either fiber or Ethernet backhaul, can provide average download speeds of around 6 Mbps. He said AT&T expects to cover the majority of its network with HSPA+ and upgraded backhaul connections by the end of this year.

Interestingly, de la Vega said AT&T is making progress in its trouble spots of New York City and San Francisco, where customers have complained of unreliable wireless connections. De la Vega said AT&T recently turned on four HSPA carriers in New York City, thereby devoting fully 40 MHz of spectrum to HSPA connections in the city.

De la Vega also said network equipment component shortages have eased--a problem the carrier and its equipment suppliers discussed late last year--thereby allowing AT&T to more quickly update its network.

LTE: De la Vega reiterated AT&T's plans to launch LTE network technology this year, covering around 75 million people with LTE by the end of this year and completing its LTE rollout by 2013.

However, de la Vega declined to discuss how AT&T would price its forthcoming LTE service. De la Vega also declined to say what speeds AT&T's LTE network will provide, noting only that the speeds would be comparable to those provided by the carrier's competition. Verizon Wireless has said its LTE network provides average downlink speeds of 5-12 Mbps.

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