The end of unlimited data — blessing or curse? Photo by Flickr user William Hook licensed under Creative Commons AT&T just announced that they would be eliminating their popular unlimited data plans for smartphones, replacing the $30 option with a $15 200 MB plan, and a $25 2 GB plan.  Maybe this is just my school, but it seems like I see more students these days texting under the desks on smartphones than on less-capable feature phones. Based on my own experiences, the iPhone is by far the king of college campuses at this point, meaning that AT&T’s changes are set to affect a lot of college students (and the other carriers will likely follow suit in the coming weeks and months anyway).

I consider myself a pretty heavy data user, and when I woke up to the news I was devastated, thinking I would have to cut back on my phone usage to stay under the 2 GB cap.  I wasn’t ready to accept a reality where I couldn’t stream This American Life whenever I drive.  A quick trip to AT&T’s website alleviated my concern though, assuring me that I have never used 1 GB, let alone 2 in a month.  

It made me realize that this could actually be a good thing.  Limiting the data hogs that stream video to their phones on a constant basis should make the network faster for everybody, and the new $15 entry-level price point for data means that students who pay for their own phone plan can now have a top of the line iPhone for as little as $55 per month (with the 450 minute AT&T plan, 200 MB data plan, and an app like TextFree Unlimited for text messaging).  As I mentioned earlier, the other major carriers will likely be emulating the new tactic soon, so this logic won’t apply only to AT&T handsets. Hackcollege is pretty big on the value of having one of these pocketable computers with you at all times, so anything that gets them into more students’ hands is a plus in my book.  

If you’re worried that 200 MB (or whatever the other carriers decide their “light” plan will be) won’t be enough for you, don’t forget that most campuses these days are blanketed in Wi-Fi, meaning that anything you do with your phone on campus won’t count towards your monthly cap.  You might need to go by your school’s IT department for help in getting your device on the network, but the extra speed and free data is absolutely worth the hassle.  As long as you generally refrain from streaming video or audio off campus, you should be fine.

So what do you think of the new pricing structure? If you don’t have a smartphone, would $15 data convince you to make the switch?