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(Reuters)

AT&T Becomes Second Major Provider to Roll Out Shared Data Plans

By Features FOXBusiness

Following in larger rival Verizon Wireless’ footsteps, AT&T (T) introduced on Wednesday its own version of shared data plans in a move that has the nation’s two largest carriers spearheading a massive overhaul over the way data is dispersed and paid for among users.

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The transformation started about a month ago when Verizon Wireless, jointly owned by Verizon Communications (VZ) and Vodafone (VOD), unveiled similar plans to allow customers to share data usage among up to 10 phones and devices.

The AT&T plan will similarly provide unlimited voice and messaging services, as the carriers continue to move away from talk and text, a traditional method of calculating wireless bills, toward data consumption, which has been growing among users.

The No. 2 U.S. carrier says the plans will become available late next month. Verizon’s plans were rolled out at the end of June.

AT&T customers will pay a flat monthly fee for the new shared data plans, which start at $40 for one gigabyte a month and range up to $200 for 20 gigabytes. The plans allow for up to 10 devices, with basic phones, laptops and tablets costing $30, $20 and $10 a month, respectively, and smartphones varying from $30 to $45 based on the data allowance.

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"With these new plans, the more you share, the more you save,” AT&T Mobility chief marketing officer, David Christopher, said in a statement. “They'll be a good fit for a variety of new and existing customers.”

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Existing customers are not required to switch over, but AT&T said they can do so without having to sign a contract extension. A key difference with AT&T and Verizon is that AT&T allows customers to keep their existing phone plans and still upgrade devices with a subsidized price. Verizon, on the other hand, requires those users looking to upgrade to pay the unsubsidized price for the phone, which can cost hundreds of dollars more.

Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone 4S, for example, may cost $200 with the renewal of a new two-year contract, however it could cost Verizon users as much as $650 under the unsubsidized rate.

New customers who want to stay clear of the new shared plans can choose one of the carrier’s existing individual or family plans, an option that differentiates AT&T from Verizon, which is requiring new customers to adopt a shared plan.

AT&T said the plans will also be available for business customers.

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