I’ve mentioned on more than one occasion my frustration with AT&T’s new policy requiring smartphone users to have data plans. Though I am perfectly happy with my data plan and don’t look to downgrade anytime soon, I very much like the flexibility to do so and mostly just resent not having a choice in the matter.

Following up on a lead that I got a while back, I actually discovered a loophole. I can, in fact, use a smartphone without a data plan under certain circumstances. I tested it with my existing AT&T SIM card and it worked perfectly. No data plan was added.

AT&T adds the data plan when it registers a smartphone on its network. If it doesn’t register the smartphone, it can’t add a data plan. All of this made sense when a few Nokia smartphone users said that they were not affected by the policy change. AT&T does not offer Nokia smartphones (or, if it does, offers a very limited selection). So the thought occurred to me that perhaps if I got a Motorola Milestone (the GSM Droid) perhaps a data plan would not be added. The question is how extensive AT&T’s database is and how many kinds of phones it keeps track of.

As luck would have it, my new Verizon phone is a worldphone, which means that it is CDMA like all of Verizon’s phones, but it also has a SIM card slot. So I unlocked the phone, popped in my AT&T SIM card, and… no data plan added. It did not recognize the phone at all! This is despite the fact that it is the Verizon variant of a model that AT&T definitely offers. The difference between my Touch Pro 2 and AT&T’s Tilt 2 is one extra button and CDMA capability. That’s it. But that’s enough. All indications are that AT&T’s database is really quite limited.

The only question is whether or not I can add an appropriate data plan to it. Different phones have different options based on capability and it assumes that my phone is a dumb phone. However, it gives you the option to identify your phone. So theoretically, if I want to add a data plan I can simply tell the system it’s a Tilt 2. I suspect that if you tried to tell it a Tilt 2 was a dumb phone that it would figure out that you’re full of it. But I don’t think the reverse is true. And then, if I want to cancel my plan, I can go back and tell it that it’s a basement Motorola model or something. Maybe.

I haven’t figured everything out. It’s possible that my phone is an exception because of my specific account, but I don’t think so. It can’t add the data plan if it doesn’t recognize the phone. The second thing I am unsure of is if I ever identify it as a Tilt 2 whether or not I can then identify it as something else. I don’t see why not. As long as the phone itself isn’t correcting me, I think that AT&T is going to give me latitude.

All of this is something of a moot point since (a) I love my data plan, (b) AT&T is revising their data plan structure to allow for a cheaper low-bandwidth option, and (c) I’m with Verizon anyway. However, it’s something I am definitely going to keep in mind when/if AT&T makes its way to Callie. One of the reasons I got the phone I did was that I could take it back to AT&T (or Frontier Wireless) if I ever decided that I wanted to.

Category: Market

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