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For new AT&T smartphone customers, no more unlimited data plans

In an attempt to ease congestion on its network, AT&T is no longer offering new customers an unlimited data plan.

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Figuring out which plan to choose may not be easy, because many people have only a hazy notion of the size of a gigabyte and how many they use now. By contrast, a minute spent talking on the phone is easy to understand, and many people have learned roughly how many minutes they use every month.

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The limits will apply only on AT&T's cellular networks. Data usage over Wi-Fi networks, including AT&T's public Wi-Fi "hot spots," will not count toward the limits.

De la Vega noted that AT&T lets customers track their usage online. The iPhone also has a built-in usage tracking tool. And the carrier will also text subscribers to let them know they're getting close to their limits.

Jason Prance, an iPhone 3G user in Atlanta, said his first reaction to the end of unlimited usage was to be "ticked off."

"If you're taking the ability to go unlimited away from people, you immediately get defensive," he said.

But then he checked his data consumption on his iPhone for the first time and found he had never used more than 200 megabytes in a month. That surprised him, he said, because he sends and receives a lot of e-mail and watches online video now and then.

Now he figures he can save $30 per month by switching himself and his wife to the $15 plan.

For the iPad, the tablet computer Apple released a few months ago, the new $25-per-month plan will replace the $30 unlimited plan. IPad owners can keep the old unlimited plan as long as they keep paying $30 per month, AT&T said.

AT&T, based in Dallas, said the new plans shouldn't materially affect its profits this year. Its stock rose 34 cents, or 1.3 percent, to $24.67 in Wednesday afternoon trading.

Customers have rebelled against the idea of data usage caps on broadband Internet at home, at least when limits are set low enough to make online video expensive. Time Warner Cable Inc. was forced to back away from trials of data caps last year after protests and threats of legislative action.

On wireless networks, where there's less data capacity to go around, usage caps have been more common. Most wireless carriers, for instance, limit data cards for laptops to 5 gigabytes per month.

With competition for smart phone users intense, phone companies have been reluctant to impose data caps on those devices, although Sprint Nextel Corp. reserves the right to slow down or disconnect users who exceed 5 gigabytes per month.

Carriers have also started to lift limits on other use, selling plans with unlimited calling and text messaging. That's not a big gamble because not many people have the time to talk on the phone for eight hours a day or spend every waking minute sending text messages. Smart phones, on the other hand, can draw a lot of data, depending on where and how they're used.

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Online:

AT&T's data calculator, for consumption estimates:

http://www.att.com/standalone/data-calculator/index.html