A tiny number of people, who bought the first iPad when it was introduced in 2010 and signed up for unlimited data service with AT&T, have been reaping the benefits of a truly unlimited data plan ever since. But will they get to keep that sweet deal when Apple releases the third generation iPad?
In this edition of Ask Maggie I answer that very question. I also share some good news with an AT&T iPhone subscriber who is worried that once a 4G LTE iPhone is introduced that he might lose his unlimited data plan.
Preserving unlimited data for the iPad
I have the iPad (first generation) with AT&T. I am grandfathered into the unlimited 3G data plan. I would like to purchase the "New iPad" with AT&T, but will I be able to keep my unlimited plan now that it's 4G LTE? Also, will the hotspot feature be enabled if I get to keep my unlimited data plan?
And finally, do you know if I can use the FaceTime app over the 4G network?
First of all, congratulations on being one of the few people who has an unlimited iPad data plan. AT&T changed its plans about month or so after the original iPad went on sale. So only a very tiny number of people were grandfathered into the unlimited data plan for the iPad.
And unlike the many more customers who have the unlimited data plan for the iPhone, unlimited iPad users really get unlimited data usage. There is no cap or threshold of usage that can be hit before AT&T slows down the service, like it does with the unlimited iPhone plan. I'm sure you realize this and that's why you want to make sure you can keep this plan as long as possible.
This leads me to your question. Mark Siegel, AT&T's spokesman, confirmed that original iPad owners with the unlimited data plan can upgrade to the new iPad with 4G LTE and you will still get to keep your $30 unlimited data plan for the iPad.
AT&T won't be enabling the hotspot feature when the device first goes on sale. So that's not really an option for you anyway. But in general, AT&T has not allowed customers to connect more than one device to a device with an unlimited data plan. Customers who use their smartphones with unlimited data plans to create Wi-Fi hotspots risk losing that unlimited service.
As for the FaceTime app, which allows you to video chat via an Apple iOS device like an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad, it looks like it's still limited to Wi-Fi only. In it's initial review of the iPad, the Verge reported that it tried to use FaceTime over Verizon's LTE network and it got a message saying that the app only works on Wi-Fi.
I called Verizon and AT&T to verify this information and to find out why the app is still restricted to Wi-Fi, and neither company would comment. They each referred me to Apple, which didn't respond to my inquiry.
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When the app was first introduced on the iPhone 4 in 2010, Steve Jobs insinuated that Wi-Fi limitation was due to the wireless operators. And once those networks were upgrade, it would eventually operate over a carrier network.
Verizon, which has had its 4G LTE network up and running for more than a year, seems confident that it's network can handle video chat services. Brenda Raney, Verizon's spokeswoman, even noted that other Verizon 4G LTE devices are capable of video chat.
That said, the service doesn't work now. And it's unclear when that will change, so stay tuned.
I hope this information was helpful to you. And good luck! CNET will be offering live coverage of the third generation iPad launch. So check it out it if you're interested.
Keeping unlimited data for the iPhone
Do you think AT&T will continue to provide the $30 unlimited data plan for "Grandfathered" iPhone users if and when the new iPhone has 4G LTE? Or will we then have to leave our old plan and be forced to change to a "limited" plan?
Today is your lucky day. I have some good news for you. AT&T already sells several 4G LTE smartphones, including the LG Nitro HD, HTC Vivid, Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket, and Pantech Burst. And customers who have been grandfathered into the unlimited data plans are able to upgrade from their current 3G smartphones to a new 4G LTE smartphone and keep their unlimited data plans.
So the short answer to your question is that I seriously doubt that AT&T will get rid of the unlimited data plan when the iPhone gets LTE. The company seems pretty committed to keeping the so-called unlimited plan. But it is trying to restrict heavy users.
The same goes for Verizon Wireless. There are customers grandfathered into unlimited data plans on that network, and they are also able to keep the unlimited data plan when they get a 4G LTE phone.
One thing to note as an AT&T customer: unlimited doesn't really mean unlimited. Last year, the company started slowing down service for the top 5 percent data users. The company recently refined its policy. And now if you have a 3G smartphone, you can use up to 3GB of data per month before your service is slowed down. AT&T is actually being more generous to 4G LTE customers. It's gives them a limit of up to 5GB of data per month.
It makes sense that AT&T and Verizon Wireless would encourage their heaviest data users to upgrade to a device that uses their 4G LTE networks. For one, these networks are brand new, so there is a lot of capacity and not a lot of traffic. That fact alone is better for these carriers, because their 3G networks are getting increasingly congested. But the other reason is that the 4G LTE networks are more efficient and more cost-effective to run. This means that AT&T and Verizon can deliver subscribers the same amount of data at a much lower cost. And eventually as they pay down the expensive of building the network, that savings is good for their bottom lines.
I hope this answers your question. And I'm crossing my fingers that the new iPhone will have 4G LTE just like the new iPad that goes on sale today.
Ask Maggie is an advice column that answers readers' wireless and broadband questions. The column now appears twice a week on CNET offering readers a double dosage of Ask Maggie's advice. If you have a question, I'd love to hear from you. Please send me an e-mail at maggie dot reardon at cbs dot com. And please put "Ask Maggie" in the subject header. You can also follow me on Facebook on my Ask Maggie page.