That will cost $70 + $20, but data is extra

17 Sep 2012

Someone should remind AT&T that the world has changed and it's all about the customer experience. Seems their marketing people haven't been keeping up.

A visit to an AT&T retail shop left me bewildered -- the simple task of figuring out the cost of a mobile phone plan with voice, text and data became an odyssey.

The eager agent handed me a brochure and explained the process: pick a voice plan, pick an SMS plan and then pick a data plan. I was looking for prepaid plans, but was turned off when I discovered that unlimited voice and text alone was $50 a month. The agent didn't bat an eye when I said that virtually unlimited voice (3,900 minutes) and unlimited intra-network SMS WITH 5GB of data is $56 (HK$439) in Hong Kong.

Much later, I picked up where I left off and explored plans that included data, this time online, mistakenly thinking it would be easier. A click on Individual Plans displayed details on voice - nothing on SMS or data. Data Device Plans had nothing on data plans for cell phones - only tablets.

Moving on to Prepaid Plans, again, no data plans, just voice and text options. But at least rates were consistent with the retail list. With view choices left, I hit the jackpot with Mobile Share Plans, discovering unlimited talk & text with 4GB of data was $70 + $40 (per phone). So for one user, that's $110 + tax. That's twice the typical Hong Kong rate for a similar plan.

But that's not the end of it! There of course is the Smartphone option. After selecting a device, you need to decide on your service plans: $70 for unlimited voice or just $40 for 450 minutes; 5GB of data is $50 while 3GB will bring it down to $30; and add another $20 for unlimited text. A comparable plan to the Hong Kong one mentioned above comes in at about $140.

What is so striking, beyond the high cost, is the silos. No bundled plans lined up in a column with a total at the top or bottom like we're used to across this region. Each service has a section (except talk & text are linked with prepaid) and usually a separate webpage. So you are left to do the math. No doubt, with rates like that, who would want to list those totals? A prepaid plan with unlimited voice, text and data (1GB) will set you back $75.

Now it's clear why AT&T reported a profit of $6.8 billion in Q2 with a 30% margin -- surely the envy of the industry.

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