AT&T's new smartphone pricing plans spell relief for business wireless expenses

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AT&T (NYSE: T) fired the first salvo today to make smartphone data pricing more accessible and cheaper for many users, which could be a boon to the business user when it comes to wireless expenses.

Today AT&T Mobility made a major revamp to its smartphone data plans, including iPhone (NASDAQ: AAPL) plans, and added data tethering to the iPhone and other smartphones. Rather than charging a flat $30 per month for data access, AT&T is now tiering its smartphone data plans: 200 MB for $15 per month and 2GB for $25 month.

AT&T said that currently 98 percent of its smartphone customers use less than 2 GB of data a month on average, while 65 percent of customers use less than 200 MB per month on average. Does that mean that half of AT&T's subscribers--a good majority business subscribers--could safely move to the $15 per month plan? If they are using their devices primarily for email, $15 per month is a viable option. The beneficial thing is that subscribers won't get penalized for going over, but they are charged for another $15 for 200 MB of data for use in the cycle. If they consistently go over, they can switch to the $30 plan.

At this point, AT&T charges $45 per month to enterprise data users--those who access corporate email, company Intranet sites and other business solutions. AT&T spokeswoman Jenny Bridges indicated that business subscribers with existing lines will not be required to change their data plan. "For new lines added for corporate responsible users after June 7, [the price] will depend on our contract with the company," she said. "For new lines activated by individual responsible users, one of the new plans will need to be selected."

If you think about the fact that more and more smartphones are coming in through the back door, there are some interesting implications. One of the biggest challenges for corporations is the fact that a considerable number of employees are now expensing business-related mobile-phone charges instead of using corporate-liable devices. Personally contracted rates and equipment costs are typically higher than those negotiated by enterprises. But if users only pay for what they need in terms of data, expensed wireless services could go down. Not every worker needs constant web access on the go.

I suspect that Verizon and others will come to market with similar offerings now. - Lynnette