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Verizon introduces shared data plans

By Paul O'Reilly

Verizon Wireless yesterday shook up the cellular world by announcing a new data sharing plan that will come into effect on June 28. Although a move to data sharing among family users was thought to be inevitable, the announcement by the largest US wireless carrier came earlier than expected and caught many observers by surprise.

The new pricing structure, dubbed the ‘Share Everything Plan,’ is a clear bet by Verizon on the skyrocketing demand for data by the millions of existing and future wireless device customers. In contrast, all the new plans incorporate unlimited call minutes and text messaging, signaling a sharp decrease in demand for those services.

Perhaps the easiest way to understand the new pricing options is to compare them to Verizon’s existing Family Share Plan. Under the current arrangements, you can add a new smartphone to the family plan for $9.99 a month but that phone is also required to have its own data plan, which starts at $30 a month. Under the new Share Everything Plan, it will cost you the same $40 total to add a smartphone but now there are no additional charges as that smartphone shares in the existing family data plan.

Now, some may say ‘Wait a second – the smartphone you add under the existing Family Share Plan comes with its own 2GB data allocation and the smartphone you will add under the Share Everything Plan comes with no additional data.’ But Verizon would argue that you are getting unlimited calling and texting at no additional cost, and the ability to manage a data allocation across several devices, which could result in significant longer term savings.

Although the benefits of smartphone activation under the new plan will depend on your individual circumstances, there is no denying the upside of the Share Everything Plan when it comes to other devices. Clearly the existing pricing arrangements have been a drag on the adoption of the latest generation of 4G tablets, including the iPad 2 and Samsung’s Galaxy series. Rather than commit to a 2-year agreement and a data plan that starts at $50 per month, consumers have been seeking out Wi-Fi-only tablets or delaying adoption altogether.

Verizon’s new Share Everything Plan is likely to change all that. Now, customers can add a 4G tablet for just $10 a month with no long term commitment. Of course, Verizon is hoping that by adding devices, families will also need to add to their shared data needs. But with each extra 2GB of data costing just $10 per month, it’s easy to see how the Share Everything Plan can start to save the truly connected family some serious money.

And it’s not just tablets. Verizon is also allowing basic phones ($30 per month), and Jetpacks, USB devices, notebooks and netbooks ($20 per month) to join the party. In all, up to 10 separate devices can be added to a Share Everything Plan, with all of them sharing in the same data pool and receiving notifications when that data pool begins to run low. Need more data? Simply add another 2GB for $10 whenever it’s required.

The Share Everything philosophy even extends to the Mobile Hotspot feature on most smartphones, which will now cost nothing to activate and which will also draw from the same common data pool.

As is always the case whenever there is a pricing change, long time Verizon customers will want to know what happens to their existing unlimited data plans. Although these plans were discontinued for new customers last year, Verizon has continued them for existing customers even if they upgraded to a new device. Under the new arrangements that will no longer be possible, with these customers having to choose between a limited data plan or one of the new shared plans.

Clearly, Verizon has seen the future and that future is data. Instead of choosing a calling and texting plan and then adding data, Verizon will now ask its customers to choose a data plan and then throw in unlimited calling and texting for one standard per-device monthly fee. And by making it cheaper to add data guzzling devices like tablets, Verizon hopes that data usage will increase and that families will continue to seek out new devices and upgrade their share plans.

Overall, the new Share Everything Plan is an innovative and ambitious approach that further simplifies the choices facing consumers, and puts the emphasis squarely on the service that matters most in the relentless adoption of mobile devices.

The Online Mom receives a fee for participating in certain promotional programs for Verizon. The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's own.

You can follow Paul O'Reilly on Twitter.  

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