Ina Fried

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ATT Pulls Out All the Stops as Verizon Starts Taking iPhone Pre-Orders

With Verizon beginning to accept pre-orders for the iPhone on Thursday and about ready to put the device on sale to all, AT&T has been pulling out all the stops in its efforts to maintain its base of iPhone customers.

Although it has been preparing to lose its iPhone exclusive for months, the carrier has made a few eleventh-hour moves aimed at stemming as many defections as possible.

Just yesterday, the carrier announced a more generous rate plan that benefits customers who tether their iPhone to a computer, offering those customers twice as much data as before for the same price. AT&T also announced plans to offer a wireless hotspot feature on smartphones with the same data rates it charges for tethering. Although the feature is initially being offered for Android, AT&T intends to expand that to other phones–including those sold by a phone maker that rhymes with Snapple.

AT&T has also been sounding off about the benefits of its iPhone in statements to the media, postings to its Web sites and even in emails to existing AT&T customers who have an iPhone or other smartphone. Among the features it is touting are the ability to talk on the phone and browse the Web at the same time, more international usability and potentially faster data rates.

All this comes as Verizon is gearing up for what appears to be a crush of pent-up demand. The carrier has already sent a note to its own workers asking that they hold off with personal purchases so that more non-employees can get devices. And Verizon has some selling points of its own. As expected, early reviews (including the one from our own Walt Mossberg) show that call quality is improved on the Verizon iPhone. In addition, it has built-in wireless hotspot capabilities and the option–for a limited time, anyway–for a $30 unlimited data plan.

As for the other carriers, they may not have an iPhone to sell, but that hasn’t stopped them from lobbying to win a few switchers as well. T-Mobile has been particularly aggressive, casting stones at both Verizon and AT&T over network speed and costs.

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