Inside the phone

Keywords: inside the phone
Description: Confusing wireless plans are as old as the cellphones themselves, although there is some hope that the structures may simplify as competition in the industry heats up.

The second largest U.S. carrier offers far more plans than its rivals—nearly 30 combinations alone for individuals, and many of its packages contradict one another. For example, customers can sign up for 900 minutes of talk, unlimited texts and 300 megabytes of data for $100 a month. But a "mobile share" plan that is $30 cheaper offers unlimited talk and texts and the same amount of data.

The muddled pricing isn't unique to AT&T. The four major carriers offer a total of nearly 700 combinations of smartphone plans—a family of five alone would have more than 250 options to choose from, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of smartphone plans offered by the four biggest U.S. carriers.

"It is always a cumbersome, somewhat root canalish experience," said Erin Riordan, of Naperville, Ill. who has five children and manages an account with six lines from AT&T that produces a $495 monthly bill.

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