Sprint not changing data pricing after AT&T's move

Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) currently has no plans to change its mobile data pricing structure in the wake of AT&T Mobility's (NYSE:T) decision to move to a usage-based model, according to the carrier's CEO Dan Hesse.

Hesse, in an email response to a customer's question about pricing and customer service, said that "one can never say 'never,' but we have no current plans to change our pricing, and will work very hard to not only maintain, but to improve our customer service." Sprint spokesman Scott Sloat confirmed the authenticity of the email. Sprint's 3G data plan for data cards has a 5 GB cap, but its WiMAX service plans have no data cap.

AT&T's announcement rocked the wireless world earlier this week--but so far, the company's main competitors have been relatively quiet in their reactions to AT&T's move. Under AT&T's new plan, customers who buy smartphones and iPads can pay $15 per month for 200 MB of data or $25 per month for 2 GB of data, with extra charges for additional data. Current AT&T smartphone customers can keep their $30 per month unlimited data plan.

In a report evaluating AT&T's announcement, Current Analysis analysts William Ho and Avi Greengart wrote that the move has significant upsides for AT&T, as well as potential pitfalls. "While some will moan about the loss of unlimited plans, most users will pay less, grandfather clauses should keep existing users happy (and churn-free), and the new plans have reasonable overage charges," the analysts said. "The $15/200 MB tier--with no change in handset subsidies--will allow price-sensitive consumers to buy a smartphone for the first time, and it may widen AT&T's lead over rival carriers in this regard."

However, the change could expose AT&T to vulnerabilities, as competitors seek to differentiate themselves by promoting their unlimited plans. "While Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) is logically the next carrier to follow, Sprint and T-Mobile, offering unlimited value propositions, may hold out longer, as usage-based tiered plans offer a stark competitive distinction between each provider," Ho and Greengart wrote. "Data-centric users may now look more favorably to Sprint and T-Mobile. As tiered usage capped plans gain attention, unlimited prepaid smartphone plans will emerge as an attractive alternative."

Verizon executives have indicated the carrier will likely implement a usage-based model when it rolls out its LTE network in the fourth quarter of this year. Verizon spokesman Jeffrey Nelson declined to comment on AT&T's pricing switch. Additionally, a T-Mobile spokeswoman said the carrier had no plans to change its pricing.

For more:
- see this Engadget post
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)

Related Articles:
Will other operators follow AT&T's lead on usage-based data pricing?
AT&T kills unlimited data pricing, supports iPhone tethering
AT&T chief: Industry moving toward usage-based pricing
Usage-based mobile broadband pricing a touchy subject

Airticle updated June 4 to reflect that Sprint's 3G data plan has a 5 GB cap only for data cards. 

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