AT&T Chicago store (interior 001)

Today at CES, AT&T announced an interesting new service called Sponsored Data. The goal of the new service is essentially to offer a way for companies to pick up the tab for 4G data usage whenever specific products or services are being used.

How does it work? Well the carrier says that if the service is in effect, users will see a “sponsored” symbol in the status bar on the screen of their device. And this will indicate that all data charges are being redirected to the sponsoring company…

From AT&T’s press release:

“AT&T* today unveiled a new way for eligible 4G customers1 to enjoy mobile content and apps overAT&T’s wireless network without impacting their monthly wireless data plan.  Similar to 1-800 phone numbers or free shipping for internet commerce, AT&T’s new ‘Sponsored Data’ service opens up new data use options for AT&T wireless customers and customer-friendly mobile broadband channels to businesses that choose to participate as sponsors.

With the new Sponsored Data service, data charges resulting from eligible uses will be billed directly to the sponsoring company; the customer simply enjoys their content via AT&T’s wireless data network.  Customers will see the service offered as AT&T Sponsored Data, and the usage will appear on their monthly invoice as Sponsored Data.  Sponsored Data will be delivered at the same speed and performance as any non-Sponsored Data content.”

The potential applications for a service like this are vast. Imagine a developer paying for your data as you try out their new smartphone or tablet app. Or what about a studio picking up your 4G data tab so you can check out their latest movie trailer.

att sponsored data

Given that most carriers have moved to capped data plans, I feel like this is an interesting proposition. But some net neutrality advocates are crying foul, saying that the company that connects you to the Internet shouldn’t control what you do online.

For instance, if a larger company like Google wanted to drive traffic to its All Access music service, it could strike a deal with a carrier to pay for the subsequent data. Then as a consumer, it looks better than competing services because the data is free.

AT&T says that there won’t be any difference in the speed or quality of sponsored and un-sponsored data, and that the latter is “coming soon.”

So what do you think about all of this? Is it a good deal for customers?

  • JulianZH

    Will google sponsor youtube mobile traffic? or all of google related products?

    • Nate McKelvie

      This could really make one company win out over the other in terms of use. If for example google offered to sponsor all data used on it’s apps ( maps for example ) or apple sponsors all data on one of it’s apps it could really persuade a user thinking to buy a new phone to make a choice based on what phone android or apple has the most sponsored data. Or even better yet, Samsung or apple could offer something like sponsoring all data usage for 90 days when you buy a new iPhone 5s or galaxy 4, it would be costly to the company, but could really be a major one up on the competition

      • Nate McKelvie

        Wow down voted huh? I personally would rather pay for my data then have ads, but this is a completely possible outcome of this sponsored data

  • Nate McKelvie

    I could see this really taking off. Facebook, Instagram, google, iradio, pandora, so many places that this could easily be implemented

    • Mike Colacone Saal

      Netflix would have to jump in.

      • Nate McKelvie

        Yeah it would be amazing if netflix jumped in, but I just don’t see that happening. The amount you spend for a monthy subscription doesn’t equal the data costs for one 2 hour long full hd movie which would be about 5 gb

      • Jack Wong

        Then we will get the bill from Netflix…

      • Nate McKelvie

        I’m my sure I understand your comment. I think it means you would get a bill for the data from netflix because netflix sponsored the data through AT&T, if so what would the point of that be? Why not just pay AT&T yourself. Like I said in my last comment, it would be financially stupid for netflix to sponsor a customers days because the cost of a monthly netflix subscription is pennies compared to the amount of data watching netflix on full hd can eat up

      • Jack Wong

        Yup, they are just trying to make it complicate…

      • Nate McKelvie

        Who is trying to make it complicated? I don’t understand what you’re talking about

      • Jack Wong

        AT&T, look at the shared data plan.

        Did they kill the $5 SMS and leave the unlimited option for us only…

        Now look at this sponsored data plan…

        Why not just lower the data plan fee? Then all these problem will be solved.

      • Nate McKelvie

        Because lowering costs would reduce profit, and they are not trying to reduce their profits, they are trying to find ways to keep their profits the same, and keep the user happy at the same time. Now I’m not saying they are accomplishing this goal, and personally I would never go for this sponsored data crap myself, but I know that many would

      • Jack Wong

        I am not happy about all these changes at all… I am just glad that I am still with the 30unlimited data because I could use up to 5-8GB per month.

      • Nate McKelvie

        Yeah I’d kill to still have unlimited data through verizon or at&t

      • Jack Wong

        Right… so I am happy with my old plan now because the new data plans are really… crazy…

        As of 1 day to the next billing cycle, I am ~6.2GB this month!

  • FrankensteinBlack

    Wow! This is a BIG DEAL but the “devil will be in the details”…

  • Blaqheart

    They wouldn’t need to have third parties ‘sponsor’ data if they had UNLIMITED data plans like they used to and like T-Mo has now…

    Just saying.

    • Rowan09

      They won’t bring back unlimited. Even though I jumped ship, now on MetroPCS AT&T has a lot of customers who use a lot of data just like Verizon so unlimited isn’t really possible. Since I’m not a top exec or CEO of AT&T I just switched to a cheaper company with unlimited even though I was grandfathered in for unlimited. Even our home internet for the most part has a cap and t-mobile isn’t really unlimited, if you read the fine print once you reach 9.9GB they can slow your speeds.

    • D R

      This is SO much better for them, because there is no way for you to determine if you have been charged for the “sponsored” data or not. So they can totally double-dip.

      It’s like doubling their network data usage, only without any significant cost to them.

  • Dani Hayes

    So AT&T finds another way to be greedy.

  • Sean Clark

    Definitely switching to T-Mobile once my contract ends. I don’t have the money to terminate my contract, but I’m not going to willingly support a step towards eliminating net neutrality.

    • Rowan09

      Try metropcs it’s cheaper and the LTE speeds are the same since they are owned by t-mobile. I used t-mobile for 3 months and my bill was basically the same as AT&T with my discount after taxes. I was paying $82 and now I’m paying only $60 with taxes included. All you need is an unlocked phone though.

      • Sean Clark

        Oh really? I’ll look into it, thank you! 🙂

      • Rowan09

        Yep, they accept any unlocked GSM phone.

  • Matthew Tanous

    Capitalism = increased quality of experience.