AT&T vs. Verizon: iPhone Plan Smackdown

Now that Verizon has confirmed its data plan price for the iPhone, U.S. customers can compare the ongoing costs of owning an Apple smartphone.

Verizon's gotten all the ink lately, especially about the $29.99 a month unlimited data plan .

But is that the deal maker?

We've collected plan prices, and run a couple of scenarios through the Computerworld calculator to help you decide before Feb. 10 , when Verizon starts selling the iPhone 4.

Naturally, your mileage may vary.

I want the bottom line...what are the numbers? Here they are, in an easily-digestible table. The prices are for individual plans; both carriers also offer family plans.

An apples-to-apples comparison is impossible because AT&T dumped its unlimited data plan last year. What do I do? Our best advice is to estimate your data usage or craft a couple of scenarios, then run the numbers.

To check smartphone data usage, you can access your account online, or text *DATA# (AT&T) or #DATA (Verizon).

Both services -- AT&T's is here, Verizon's here -- also offer a data calculator that can give you a ballpark idea of consumption based on your input.

I'm a data miser. What's the best deal? Depends. Shocker, right?

A side-by-side match-up that includes, for example, the least-expensive voice plan, the least expensive texting plan and no tethering, gives AT&T a $9.99 edge with the 200MB per month data plan. Bump up to the 2GB data plan, however, and it's a wash.

I'm no data hog, but I text and talk like a teenager. What's my best move? The comparison is straight-forward, since both carriers offer an $89.99 unlimited talk/unlimited texting package. So the only difference is the minimum data plan price, which gives AT&T an edge.

AT&T: $104.99

Verizon: $119.98

Advantage: AT&T, by $14.99

I miss unlimited data on my iPhone, and am thinking of switching to Verizon. But I also figure I'll burn 5GB a month total, 3GB of that on laptop tethering. How much would that cost me? Assuming, for the sake of argument, that you also sign up for unlimited voice and texting -- the $89.99 package deal again -- the costs, including tethering and a total data consumption of 5GB monthly, would be:

AT&T: $164.99

Verizon: $159.98

Advantage:Verizon, by $4.99

If you only used a total of 3GB of data month, 2GB on the iPhone, another 1GB while tethered, the numbers look like this:

AT&T: $144.99

Verizon: $139.98

Advantage: Verizon, by $4.99

I hear that the Verizon unlimited data deal will be a limited time offer. What happens when they change to tiered pricing? Verizon's not saying how it will price granular data plans in the future, although it's committed to making that move.

If you sign up for the unlimited plan, however, you lock in at the $29.99 price for unlimited data until you purchase another phone from the carrier.

That's different from AT&T, which last year let iPhone customers already on the now-defunct unlimited data plan keep that rate as long as they stuck with the carrier. In other words, you can buy a new iPhone , say, this summer, and retain the unlimited deal if you still have that on your bill.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@computerworld.com .

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