AT&T is to charge its GPRS mobile internet users by the byte, a policy that has proved successful for its Japanese partner NTT DoCoMo's iMode service.
The US telecoms giant launched its first GPRS network in Seattle, which will also be available in patches around major US cities on Tuesday. But it will be some time before the country catches up with the comparatively speedy deployment of always-on mobile internet services in Japan and Europe.
Some wireless firms have held back on charging for the amount of data downloaded, fearing that customers would not understand how the model works.
But it has proved popular in techno-savvy Japan, and telecoms researcher Analysys believes that within six years European phone companies will make more money from mobile data services than from voice calls.
AT&T's wireless network is capable of downloading data at speeds of up to 100Kbps, but the current crop of handsets will initially limit available speeds.
The telco said that for £35 ($50) a month, users would get 400 minutes of regular voice calls and be able to download or upload up to 1Mb of data.
But regular users of the mobile internet service could quickly exhaust this limit. According to AT&T, downloading a 500-word story would consume 25K and checking a stock price would use 10K. Extra downloads will be charged at a rate of less than one cent per kilobyte, it added.
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