Verizon Wireless may soon introduce a new service plan that allows families to share data among multiple subscribers across a single account, according to a post on Engadget.
The gadget blog said today that it has received employee training material from a source that indicates there is a new version of the data plan that will soon be introduced. In a screen shot on the blog, there is a section labeled "account level data plans" and a charge of $9.99 charge per additional line.
Engadget said it doesn't know when Verizon will introduce the new billing option. But Verizon executives have been talking about such a plan recently.
Verizon Chief Financial Officer Fran Shammo said on the company's earnings call last week that the company is looking at how to implement a smartphone family data plan.
"We need to make sure it's a win-win for customers and for us," he said. "So we will continue to work on that. But it's important to note that we are a premium priced service in the market. And we will continue with that strategy, and we'll continue to win."
AT&T's head of wireless, Ralph de la Vega ,has also said his company is working on a shared data plan, but he has been mum on when such a plan might be launched.
A Verizon representative reiterated Shammo's comments, telling CNET that the company had nothing additional to say right now about a family or shared data plan.
A shared data plan could benefit consumers in two ways. Depending on how much carriers charge for the service, it could allow families to save a little bit on the cost of their service by allowing two or more people on the same family plan to share buckets of data.
Currently, every major carrier allows families to share voice minutes and text messages in family plans. But data is paid for separately. The discounts that families enjoy as part of these family plans varies depending on the carrier.
The second way a shared data plan could help consumers is by providing a plan that allows people to use more than one device with a single data plan. This means that if someone has a smartphone and a Mi-Fi device, the person could get one data plan that provides access to both devices, eliminating the need to sign up for separate data plans.
Most carriers already allow subscribers to add tethering services with their smartphones. In this case, the smartphone acts as the Mi-Fi and users can connect up to five devices to the wireless hot spot. Operators charge a separate fee for the tethering option and include additional gigabytes of data for plans that allow tethering.
As more devices come with 3G and 4G wireless access embedded, subscribers will need shared data plans that cover multiple devices. For example, consumers won't want to buy a separate data plan for an Internet-connected digital camera. If such plans aren't offered, consumers may be less likely to buy and activate data plans for such devices.
It's unclear whether wireless operators will offer any discounts as part of these shared data plans. It seems that wireless carriers are trying to increase revenue from data by raising prices or limiting how much data consumers can use. AT&T and Verizon Wireless have already moved to tiered offering for data customers, eliminating unlimited data plans for new subscribers and instead imposing caps.
AT&T also recently raised prices on its wireless data service. Given the fact that carriers are trying to boost the amount of revenue they make from data services, my guess is that the discounts, if there are any, won't be significant. But for some people the convenience of a single bill either for the entire family or for a single subscriber's multiple devices will still be worth it.