Feb. 1, 2011 at 3:17 PM ET
Remember the classic film "Aliens vs. Predators," where no matter who won, the human race lost? AT&T and Verizon are engaging in a similar coast-to-coast blood feud, but fortunately for the human race, no matter what happens we actually win. Because this is a price war, with savings all around.
What precipitated this fight? Verizon, as I am going to presume you know, is getting the iPhone 4. AT&T doesn't want to lose customers, and is prepared to give them some up-front savings to make them consider sticking around. Just today, AT&T announced that its 4.3-inch HTC Inspire 4G, with the ability to run on a pretty fast data network with the same rates as a slower iPhone, would cost just $99, starting Feb. 13. That's a lot cheaper than an iPhone 4, and even a lot cheaper than Sprint's top-selling HTC Evo 4G, a very similar phone.
AT&T may be launching a hardware sale. There are rumors about AT&T's pricing for the very hot Motorola Atrix and its notebook-shaped dock. Though AT&T would not confirm this, in the coming weeks you may be able to buy this combo — basically, a smart phone and netbook in one package — for just under $300 total. My guess is that it will be closer to $500, but to get both for the price of an iPad is pretty good.
Verizon Wireless is joining in the price war, but without budging on monthly pricing or even phone discounts — the cost of the iPhone is the same as it is on AT&T.
What Verizon is doing is offering credit up front for your old iPhone (or other handset), and good money at that. When I tried out the Verizon trade-in program, they said I could get $285 for my iPhone 4. Not coincidentally, that's about equal to what current iPhone 4 owners probably owe on their AT&T contract's Early Termination Fee. There were rumors that Verizon would go as high as $360 for an iPhone 4, but Verizon won't confirm that, and it doesn't really make sense, since that's more than the purchase price.
Verizon is also going to push its unlimited data plan for $30, at least for a short time. "Unlimited" is one of those things people jump at despite the fact that they don't really need it. Most smart phone users average around 1GB of monthly data consumption. Unlimited is a bonafide selling point only for extreme users, people who are too far away from Wi-Fi too often, those who want to watch Netflix over 3G. I would personally prefer cheaper, tiered plans like AT&T has, but people see value in "unlimited" — so much so that even AT&T is allegedly granting disgruntled customers the right to go back to their old unlimited smart phone plan.
Though Verizon and AT&T are the two biggest U.S. carriers, the other two carriers are doing what they can to compete. T-Mobile, known for great pricing, has an incredible offering for people who want to use their smart phone as a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot for laptops and iPads. If you have a smart phone data plan, you can pay $15 more per month and "tether" your Wi-Fi devices to your phone.
That's already cheaper than the competition, which charges $20 for tethering rights, but T-Mobile gives you 5GB of data, where the others only give 2GB. Even if you can't use that much on your phone, you could easily use it on your laptop. What's even crazier, T-Mobile is offering laptop tethering at no extra charge when you buy a tablet with a monthly data plan. Anyone looking specifically for a good mobile Wi-Fi option should check with T-Mobile first.
Sprint, poor Sprint, is having a little more trouble competing in the all-out melee. Though it's been as competitive as T-Mobile in terms of pricing, especially for unlimited text and data, it had to raise its smart phone data rates by $10 per month just a few weeks ago. It has lowered its pricing on its flagship phones to below $200 — the new HTC Evo Shift keyboard phone is actually $149 — but those prices aren't exactly shocking, like the $99 sticker on AT&T's Inspire 4G. My guess is that Sprint will reduce prices on some even further, to lure people who are turned off by the new higher monthly charges.
Stay tuned. There seems to be a lot of wireless news this week, so there may be more cool gadgets — and hot pricing — to come.
More wireless stories from Technolog: