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AT&T Metered Plan Good for RIM, Clearwire

Beneficiaries of AT&T's new metered data plan are BlackBerry maker Research in Motion and Clearwire.

In a somewhat stunning about-face from the recently implementedunlimited data plan for the iPad,


(T) - Get Report

announced the effective end to

unlimited data

. Gone are the days when you could stream


to your cellular device such as


(T) - Get Report

iPhone or iPad 3G for a fixed monthly fee -- at least on the AT&T network.

You see, this pricing action by AT&T will now serve to highlight



superior spectrum position, which enables it to offer unlimited data service for $60 a month when using the


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Overdrive "mobile WiFi hotspot" and $30 when using the equivalent functionality on the HTC EVO 4G, which launches in Sprint stores on Friday.

You want your iPhone or iPad with unlimited data? Just pair theiPhone iPad or iPod Touch, with either the Sierra Wireless Overdriveor the HTC EVO 4G, and you're covered. Not only do you have a planthat was better than the new expensive metered AT&T data plans, butyour plan remains even better than AT&T's old plan, because there isno 5 GB cap per month.

This is the result of Clearwire's superior spectrum position, which means it has the capacity to offer users more data consumption without hitting the ceiling in terms of capacity. Think of Clearwire as offering a freeway with 10 lanes in eachdirection, compared with one lane in each direction offered by AT&T. There isjust no remote comparison.

Eventually, of course, Clearwire and its 57% majority owner


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also will be forced into some form of a metered data plan, but this could take a year or two or more. It just takes a lot longer to fill up a 10-lane freeway than a one-lane freeway. In the meantime, this is a huge gift to the Sprint and Clearwire marketing departments.

The other main beneficiary of this AT&T pricing action is BlackBerry maker

Research in Motion


, whose devices use complex compression techniques to reduce the amount of data going across the network. Claims vary, but generally it is thought that a BlackBerry consumes three to five times less data to accomplish many tasks, compared with a device such as iPhone or


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Practically, this means that a BlackBerry often consumes only 100 to 200MB or so per month on average, whereas an iPhone or Android mayconsume around 500 MB to 1 GB per month. These are averagenumbers I have heard from many people in the cellular operatorindustry over the last six or so months. To the extent that theconsumer understands this, including education by the carrier, thiswill be a huge boon to the sales of BlackBerry from the perspective ofpeople paying less for data, compared with iPhone and Android.

No longer will everyone pay $30 a month. A BlackBerry user could payless and not face overages, whereas other smartphone users may end uppaying overages. Certainly many smartphone users consume more than 2 GB per month and almost none of those are BlackBerry users.

This AT&T pricing action also plays into what AT&T's chief consumerboss, Ralph De La Vega, said during his presentation at the CTIA tradeshow in March, when he talked about a new smartphone browser consumingsome 2.5 times less data than current smartphones. It seems that what hewas talking about was the new upcoming WebKit browser from BlackBerry,which could be unveiled as early as this month and be in stores no later than September.

Anton Wahlman was a sell-side equity research analyst covering the communications technology industries from 1996 to 2008: UBS 1996-2002, Needham & Company 2002-2006, and ThinkEquity 2006-2008. As the time of this writing, he was long AAPL, RIMM, CLWR, GOOG and SWIR.