Verizon Wireless finally unveiled its "Share Everything" family plan for data, phone calls, and text messages, potentially shaking up how consumers pay for wireless services.
The plans allow for unlimited phone calls and text messages, and a bucket of data that can be shared by as many as 10 Verizon Wireless devices. The plans, which launch June 28, range between $50 and $100, in addition to separate monthly access charges for each device. Individuals or groups of people can sign up for these plans.
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Separately, June 28 also marks the end of unlimited data for many Verizon customers looking for a new phone.
The concept of the family data plan, in which multiple users or devices draw from a common pool of data, has long been bandied about as the potential catalyst for selling more connected devices. Verizon expects that down the line, consumers will want to connect other products, from cameras to refrigerators, to the cellular network.
The industry is hoping that the notion of a shared data plan will specifically spark sales of tablets, which haven't fared well outside of Apple's iPad. Verizon hopes customers will be more willing to use a cellular-connected tablet if they can draw from a common pool of data, rather than a separate plan and bill.
"These plans offer the simplicity and value that customers feel are important," Tami Erwin, chief marketing officer of Verizon Wireless, told CNET.
The plans aren't cheap, but offer better value if shared between multiple people. All of the plans come with unlimited calling and text messages. A $50 monthly plan comes with 1 gigabyte of data to be shared between devices. For $60 a month, you get 2GB, while $70 gets 4GB, $80 gets 6GB, $90 gets 8GB, and $100 gets 10GB. There's also a low-end $40 plan for 300 megabytes of data, but that plan can't be shared by other data devices.
Customers who approach their limit get an alert and have the option of paying $10 for 2GB of additional data. Those who ignore the alert and go over the limit are charged $15 for 1GB of extra data.
In addition to the plan, there are fees related to each device. There's a monthly charge of $40 for each smartphone; $30 for each phone; $20 for a hot spot, USB modem, notebook, or netbook; and $10 for a tablet.
While Erwin conceded that some individuals would end up paying more under these new plans, there isn't a requirement to switch. She added that families where some members use fewer data than others could benefit from this plan.
Family members can calculate their data consumption with tools such as the data calculator found on Verizon's Web site, or through the My Verizon app found on smartphones and tablets.
The June 28 launch date marks the potential end of the unlimited data plan for many customers. While Verizon no longer offers unlimited data as an option, millions still have no cap owing to a grandfathered plan. But after June 28, customers who take a subsidy when upgrading to a new phone must forfeit their unlimited plan and switch to a new capped one.
Like AT&T, the company has been eager to move people away from unlimited plans in an effort to rein in heavy data usage.
The shared data plan is a natural evolution of the industry's move away from unlimited data plans. Verizon has been working on the shared data plan concept for the past 18 to 24 months, Erwin said.
"Unlimited data is not something that we think is sustainable in the long run," she said.
Verizon is working with the manufacturers of different electronic and appliance companies to figure out new pricing plans for emerging connected devices. Erwin said the pricing would likely be less than a smartphone or tablet, and may follow a different model such as subscription.
"We believe that the announcement of this pricing will fuel an ecosystem of devices," she said.
Verizon is the first to introduce such a plan. AT&T is similarly working on a family plan for shared data, and AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega told CNET that one was close to coming to fruition.
Sprint Nextel, on the other hand, continues to offer fully unlimited data access on its smartphones, while T-Mobile USA has come out against such family plans.