So just how much data does AT&T consider 'unlimited'?
August 10, 2009 1:09 PM   Subscribe

I am in the hospital using the AT&T non-smartphone unlimited data plan like it is going out of style. My only link to the outside, and I have been transferring a lot of data... a LOT of data. Sooooo.... at what point does Ma Bell flip out, and how does this manifest?
posted by juliewhite to Technology (9 answers total)
I believe most "unlimited" data plans have a 5GB cap. You might get hit with crazy overage charges, but I don't know for sure.
posted by PFL at 1:40 PM on August 10, 2009

It depends highly on how you are provisioned, but I've used well over 5G of data traffic in a month on multiple occasions, using my old plan with Pac Bell / SBC / Cingular / ATT / Whatever the hell they're called this week. I've never paid more than my monthly flat rate for data.

I got beaned with overages once and only once, and that's because some sales guy altered my data provisioning without my consent -- after a family member had merely gone in to accept a supposedly mandatory SIM swap -- in order to bump his sales numbers. I chewed them out for an hour starting about 15 seconds after the bill came, then the overages (and the fraudulent changes to my account) all went away.

Also: "I believe [some made-up thing]... but I don't know for sure" is a really horrible way to actually answer actual questions. Can we not do that, please?
posted by majick at 1:50 PM on August 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

Another vote for 'no problem' - How much is a "lot"? Are you downloading torrents 24-7? According to my online bill, I pulled 5.4GB last month and AT&T didn't flip out on me or cap my usage or anything like that. I've downloaded as much as 7GB a month with no trouble on that plan. And I've been doing it for a while (years). But I also have the $20 monthly non-smartphone "unlimited data" grandfathered in from five years ago, so I don't know if they turn a blind eye or whatever for being a loyal customer. And I'm kind of afraid to ask
posted by ostranenie at 2:29 PM on August 10, 2009

Is this being used on the phone handset itself or are you tethering it to a laptop (against the at&t ToS)? If it's on the handset, then you will have no problem and you'll probably be surprised at how little data you're using even if you're streaming Pandora and Orb until the cows come home. However, at&t definitely can tell if you are tethering your phone without paying for it and if they review your account, then can elect to discontinue your service and charge you the ETF. You will not get stuck with an overage though. These types of data services are soft-capped at 5GB of data transfer (upstream and downstream combined) per billing cycle.

You should be able to check your data usage online at, however the data counter is usually a day or so behind the actual usage.
posted by cgomez at 3:17 PM on August 10, 2009

From the web site, the customer service numbers are:

1-800-331-0500 or 611 from your wireless phone

Why not call and ask? I too was stuck in the hospital for 6 days a year ago with only my iphone for contact with the outside world. Somewhat different because I had an unlimited data plan, but I called AT&T to see what my charges would be once I went over my minutes. Which I did after the second day.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 3:23 PM on August 10, 2009

ImproviseOrDie: The OP's plan is "unlimited" too, but while Apple seems to have forced AT&T to make that word mean something for iPhones, in general "Unlimited" plans actually do have some kind of Super Secret limit that often is around 5GB/month, but which no amount of cajoling will get out of them.
posted by Tomorrowful at 3:44 PM on August 10, 2009

when i got my iphone i asked the sellsman if the unlimited data plan was actually webster's kind of unlimited or att fine print kind of unlimited. he said webster's unlimited unlimited.

that said, he was a register monkey making chicken scratch
posted by phritosan at 4:27 PM on August 10, 2009

ImproviseOrDie: "... to see what my charges would be once I went over my minutes. Which I did after the second day."

This was probably a typo on your part, but just to be clear, minutes and data usage are two different things.
posted by IndigoRain at 5:47 PM on August 10, 2009

I may not have explained my situation fully enough (knew I had unlimited data so wasn't concerned like I was about my minutes, which is why I called about the per-minute rate), but I didn't make a typo. My point was that rather than asking what's the limit on AskMe, he can easily call the source: AT&T.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 7:10 PM on August 10, 2009

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