Verizon Wireless has long considered itself the Cadillac of carriers.
Following Thursday's introduction of its "More Everything" plan, which brings price cuts, more data, and a few other freebies, it's clear that carrier wants to remain the premium brand in the wireless industry. While the discounts are welcome to existing Verizon users, its rivals still offer more competitive plans.
More Everything is a concession that even Verizon, which has long sought to stay above the competitive fray, is no longer immune to the pressures facing the industry. But the changes suggest Verizon is slowly, even reluctantly, wading into the intensifying price war.
But is More Everything a good deal? Well, the answer is complicated. Verizon preaches choice in the number of options and configurations offered to you, but the result is the potential for confusion. Fortunately, CNET is here to shed a little light.
First, let's break down the components of the new plan. The most significant change that comes with More Everything is the discount that come for customers who opt to pay for their device on a monthly basis.
There is some variability on how much of a break you actually get. Customers currently have to choose the amount of data they want, which includes unlimited phone calls and text messages, and then bundle it with a monthly fee for each device they want to access that data. The normal monthly access fee for a smartphone is $40, a basic phone is $30, and a tablet is $10.
If you choose Edge, you will get a break on the access fee, although it only applies to smartphones. If the customer chooses a plan that is 8 gigabytes or under, the discount is $10 for every device on the plan. If the customer chooses a plan that is 10GB or over, the discount is $20 per device. The cheapest smartphone plan, providing only 250MB, gets a $15 break.
While you pay one fee for the data, you could end up paying multiple access fees depending on how many devices are on your family plan, so the savings could add up. One person on a 10GB plan and Edge will pay $120, which is pretty steep. But four people would pay $180, or $45 a person, which is a bit more reasonable.
So why would anyone choose Edge? The key feature is the ability to upgrade early. With More Everything, Verizon introduced the option for an Edge customer to upgrade a smartphone after only 30 days.
Sounds great, right? But as always, there's an expensive catch. Customers have to trade in their smartphone to Verizon, which has always been the case with Edge. In addition, they also have to pay off 50 percent of their current phone's full retail price. The base iPhone 5S costs $650, so if you wanted to trade that phone in for the next Galaxy S smartphone, you would be on the hook to for $325.
Disappointingly, the discounts on the monthly access fees don't apply to customers who bring in their own device or pay full price for their phone upfront, stubbornly deviating from the rest of the pack. The thinking is this: if I'm shouldering the cost of the phone myself, then the carrier is no longer stuck with the financial burden of a subsidy for the device. Therefore, I should get a break on my phone bill.
The other carriers have all embraced this model, yet Verizon has opted not to extend the savings beyond the Edge program. Verizon Wireless Chief Marketing Officer Ken Dixon would only say that the carrier was offering customers choice.
Verizon also snuck in a few more discounts for customers who want a traditional two-year contract. If you're an individual signing up for a 500MB, 1GB, or 2GB plan, you'll see a $10 discount to your monthly bill.
Customers who sign up for the low-end 250MB plan will get a $5 discount. The cheapest possible plan, which doesn't include data and is meant for basic phones, also drops by $5 to $55 a month under a contract.
Yes, More Everything does live up to its name in the sense that you are getting more for your buck.
First up, more data. The $40 plan, which had offered 500MB of data, will now come with 1GB of data, while the $50 plan shifts up from 1GB plan to 2GB, and the $60 plan bumps up from 2GB to 3GB. The best part: the changes automatically take effect for existing customers.
Verizon is also throwing in international text messages with the plan, a bid to at least somewhat match T-Mobile's offer of free international data and text messages overseas. Verizon's offer is only limited to sending text messages to international numbers while you're in the US. If you go overseas, you'll end up paying the higher roaming rate.
Verizon's Dixon declined to comment on the prospect of offering free data roaming, a la T-Mobile.
Verizon is offering More Everything customers 25GB of cloud storage. It previously offered 5GB of storage for free, but charged $3 a month for 25GB.
For the first three months, More Everything customers will be on Verizon's International Long Distance plan for free, allowing them to make calls to Mexico, Canada, and Latin America at lower rates. Under the plan, a call to Mexico or Canada would cost 1 cent a minute, while a call to Latin America costs 5 cents a minute.
Unfortunately, there aren't heavily discounted rates elsewhere.
Also free for the first three months is Verizon's Family Base service, a parent control service that allows parents to set time and usage restrictions, as well as view their children's contract lists and remotely lock down the device.
Both services cost $5 a month after the three-month trial period.
So how does More Everything stack up?
On a purely financial basis, More Everything isn't a great deal. Given that the biggest potential savings start at 10GB, let's use that tier as a baseline for comparison.
As I previously noted, a 10GB Edge plan will cost an individual $120 a month, excluding device costs. For two people, it would cost $140 a month, or $70 a person, while four people would pay $180, or $45 a person.
At AT&T, the same monthly installment plan (which the carrier calls Next), and 10GB of data would go for $115, excluding device cost. Two lines would cost $130, or $65 a person, and four lines would cost $160, or $40 a person. The more people you add, the greater the difference in savings between AT&T and Verizon.
The difference between Verizon and T-Mobile are more startling. T-Mobile doesn't offer tiered data, although it offers cheaper plans that get throttled after a certain amount of data. For purposes of this comparison, let's just use the unlimited option for an individual, which costs $70 a month, excluding device cost. Two people with unlimited plans would pay $120, while a family of four would pay $180. While the amount here is the same, the difference is in the unlimited data.
For a more apt comparison, T-Mobile does offer 10GB of high-speed data to a family of four (2.5GB to each person), after which the service is slowed down. That plan costs $140 a month.
The comparisons get a little murky with Sprint's Framily plan because of its unique structure. But an individual signing up for unlimited data would pay $75 a month, while a couple would pay $140 a month, and a family of four would pay $240 a month. As the plan encourages friends and family to sign up together, the optimal savings come with seven people, who would pay a total of $315 a month, or $45 a month. A family of four opting for 3GB of data each would pay a total of $200.
The bottom line
Money, of course, isn't everything. Ultimately, it depends on the quality of service and your tolerance for good and bad cellular coverage.
Verizon readily admits that it isn't trying to undercut, or even match, its competitors, and today's announcement underscores that sentiment. The company firmly believes it has a superior network, and customers should pay a premium for its services.
If you're a Verizon customer, More Everything is a boon. You were likely already used to paying up for your wireless coverage, and this combination of more data and (potentially) lower fees will leave you less annoyed that every other carrier has been slashing prices. If you love the network, this plan gives you a reason to stick with the carrier.
For customers dissatisfied with their current carrier, this is an excuse to take a look at Verizon. It's likely still more expensive, but the option is slightly more attractive. Conversely, if you're disappointed in Verizon's service, this might not be enough to keep you.
Customers who are content with their carrier, however, won't need to bother. The plans just aren't competitive enough to sway people who place a high value on cost in their decision-making process.