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AT&T eyes new range of mobile data price options
* Unveils $40 monthly fee for 200 MB of data download
* Mulls pay-per-day, prepaid data services
By Sinead Carew
LAS VEGAS, April 1 (Reuters) - AT&T Inc (T.N) is looking into offering a new range of more flexible data service fees to encourage more consumers to use its wireless network to connect electronics devices to the Internet, according to a top executive for the service provider.
AT&T said on Wednesday that it is now offering wireless data services with reduced fees but with a limit on Web access on a trial basis for customers buying netbook computers with embedded wireless connections in Atlanta and Philadelphia.
In those cities consumers can opt for a $40 monthly data plan that allows for 200 megabytes of data downloads to their netbook, a scaled-down laptop computer that AT&T sells.
While this is only one-25th of the data that could be downloaded for AT&T's current existing plan, which costs $60 a month, AT&T said it expects the $20 discount to suit many customers who want to save money but don't always need to be connected to the cellular network.
For example they may spend a lot of time browsing the Web using Wi-Fi, a short-range wireless network technology found in many homes and often available free in coffee shops.
Glenn Lurie, head of emerging devices for AT&T said that the plan is part of an experiment that could result in multiple new options such as per-day data fees or prepaid data plans where consumers can sign up in advance for a certain amount of Web surfing and then buy more capacity when they need it.
"What we're definitely going to have to do is get more flexible with our pricing," Lurie said in an interview with Reuters at the CTIA wireless showcase in Las Vegas.
"I think in the future we'll have many more choices as customers give us the feedback," he said.
Lurie said that while there has not been demand for a broader array of data plans in the past, this will change as AT&T adds wireless links to more consumer devices.
The idea is that consumers would end up paying for connections to multiple devices such as electronic book readers or cameras. This is seen as a way to help carriers keep growing their revenue even though there are cellular connections equivalent to almost 90 percent of the U.S. population.
AT&T's biggest rival Verizon Wireless, a venture of Verizon Communications (VZ.N) and Vodafone Group Plc (VOD.L) is also hoping to boost its growth by convincing consumers and businesses to connect multiple devices.
Verizon Chief Executive Ivan Seidenberg talked about the possibility for five times more cellular connections in coming years in his keynote speech at CTIA. He did not comment on how this might change pricing plans.
This would include everything from machine to machine connections for devices such as electricity meter readers to consumer devices such as electronic readers, which Verizon expects to support in the near future. (Reporting by Sinead Carew; Editing by Gary Hill)
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