UPDATED 03/01/2014...Thanks to the comment below from "rey c", who caught a math error I had in my spreadsheet. I originally only had the monthly cell phone costs multiplied out by 12 instead of by 24 for a 2-year period. I updated the graphic and the text below to reflect the corrected math. It made the "Value" plan a much better deal than what I was originally showing.
AT&T recently announced a new set of shared data plans they call "Mobile Share Value Plans". So what is this new plan and should you consider switching to it if you are an existing AT&T customer?
The New Mobile Share Value Plan
In a nutshell the new plan is basically the same plan as the existing mobile share plans except that under the new "Value" plans there is no contract. The catch to this is that with no contract also comes no subsidized phones. So the next time you want to upgrade to the newest iPhone instead of paying $200 you will be paying the full retail price of $649 (assuming a 16 Gb iPhone 5s).
So how does this new "Value" plan compare to the existing mobile share plan from AT&T? I used my family as an example below. I currently have 3 iPhones on an AT&T mobile share plan and we are sharing 6Gb of data (which is the smallest amount of data I could get and still be able to tether). So currently my monthly cell phone cost is:
Now, if I were to switch to the new "Mobile Share Value Plan" I would need to upgrade my shared data to 10Gb per month in order to take advantage of the $25 per phone per month savings that AT&T offers with this new plan. If I just stuck with my current 6Gb of data on the new "Value" plan it would cost me $10 more per month for less data. So below is what my monthly cost would be for 10Gb of shared data under the new "Value" plan:
At 1st glance this looks really good! I save $55 a month AND get an additional 4Gb of data. How can that possibly be a bad deal? Well, you have to look at the whole picture. If we were to stick with our existing iPhones and keep them for many years without upgrading then it might be worth considering switching to the new "Value" plan. However, we like keeping our phones relatively up to date so going 3, 4 or 5 years between phone upgrades is not something I would ever consider doing. So in order to really compare apples-to-apples you need to factor in the cost of upgrading your iPhone every 2-years. But why would you factor that cost in if you aren't the kind of person that upgrades the second they are eligible to do so? Here is the nasty little secret that AT&T doesn't want you to know. Whether you upgrade your phone or not you are paying for a new phone (if you are on contract). You see, built into your monthly service cost is the cost of the full price iPhone. You didn't really think you were getting a free iPhone did you? Afterall, AT&T does need to turn a profit and can't just be handing out $700 phones like candy. So that $200 a month I am paying each month for 24 months has the full cost of all 3 of my iPhones (minus the $200 per phone or $600 I have to pay to upgrade) built into the cost of the service. So below is a comparison between the two shared data plans after adding in the cost of upgrading to new iPhones every 2-years:
The Bottom Line
As you can see from the comparison above, for me it is essensially a wash between the two different plans over a 2-year period. The big plus for the new "Value" plan is that for about the same cost I can get 10 Gb of data instead of 6 Gb. For me, I don't use the 6 Gb I have now so this isn't a huge driver but more data is always better (especially when it doesn't cost you any more). The real sticking point for most people is going to be the concept of paying "full price" for an iPhone (or several) up front. We have all been trained by the cell carriers to expect phones to cost less than $200 (when in reality they cost what they cost and we pay for them in full, but as part of our monthly bill). There is another problem too. Unsubsidized iPhones are not available the same day the new iPhones comes out. So being the early adopter that I am I would not be able to get the new iPhone until several months after the release date when Apple decides to start selling the new iPhone unsubsidized. (Although AT&T may allow you to buy a new unsubsidized iPhone the day the subsidized phones are realeased but I haven't seen those details yet)
Now, what if you don't buy a new iPhone every 2-years? If you instead only upgrade every 3-years to new iPhones then the new "Value" plan ends up being an even better value, saving you $633 over 3-years. So if you are bringing your own phones to AT&T or you don't plan on upgrading your iPhone very often then the new "Value" plan from AT&T will definitely be of some value to you. However, if you are like most people and don't want a slow out-of-date phone, you are going to want to stay relatively up-to-date at least every 2-years and then the 2 plans are a wash. You get more data with the "Value" plan (at least when comparing the rates at the data tier I am in), but you do have an additional upfront cost for the phone you have to deal with.
The new "Value" plans from AT&T aren't as bad as I originally thought they might be. I guess competition really is a good thing!