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January 7, 2015
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T-Mobile introduced Data Stash in December and left AT&T with little choice but to respond in kind. Wednesday, AT&T announced Rollover Data. T-Mobile's Data Stash and AT&T's Rollover Data both allow customers of select plans to carry over unused data from one month to the next, though they differ in the details. AT&T's offering isn't as generous as T-Mobile's.
AT&T first conjured up the idea of rollover services nearly a decade ago with its voice minutes. Under that program, customers were able to carry over unused voice minutes from one month to the next. The voice minutes rarely expired, which often led to customers building up monstrous caches of unused voice minutes. A decade ago voice minutes were what people paid for, not access to high-speed data. In fact, it's an interesting reversal. Years ago customers could get unlimited 3G data for $30 a month, but paid through the teeth for voice minutes. Now, voice minutes are unlimited and people pay through the teeth for 4G data services.
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AT&T's Rollover Data program is somewhat similar to its old voice rollover service. Rollover Data automatically rolls unused data over for a period of just one month. Customers who only use 4 GB of a 5-GB monthly plan, for example, will see that unused 1 GB added to their total data allotment for the following month. Though the customer will have access to 6 GB of data, they will have to consume their entire normal 5 GB allotment first before they can access that rollover data. The Rollover Data -- in this case 1 GB -- will expire at the end of the second month.
AT&T said it will automatically enroll all its Mobile Share Value plan subscribers in Rollover Data beginning January 25. This encompasses the bulk of its post-paid customers, or about 50 million people. AT&T says all Mobile Share Value customers will get Rollover Data, no matter how much data they subscribe to, and it is available at no additional charge. Moreover, the rolled-over data is shareable within family members and accounts and can be accessed across multiple lines and devices on any given plan. AT&T Mobile Share Value customers will be able to view their Rollover Data balance on the MyAT&T app or online.
T-Mobile's Data Stash program functions differently. To start, T-Mobile added a 10-GB reservoir of data to its eligible customers' accounts. T-Mobile's rollover data is good for a period of one year, not one month. For many, this may have a snowball effect, generating huge stashes of unused data by the end of the first year. For T-Mobile customers, this could allow them to reduce the amount of data to which they subscribe and thereby lower their bills.
AT&T's move is clearly meant to prevent customers from defecting to T-Mobile, which, by the way, claims to have won 8.1 million new customers from its competitors during the past year.
The real question now is whether or not Sprint and Verizon Wireless will respond. Sprint still offers its customers unlimited data each month, so it is unlikely to follow suit. Verizon, however, is another story. It may be forced to introduce a similar program lest it fall out of step with the competition.
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