Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Verizon's new Share Everything plans: keeping unlimited data is possible, but pricey

Verizon Wireless has announced the shared data plans we discussed earlier. The changes are coming on June 28, with all new customers after that date required to sign up for "shared data."

Those on an unlimited data plan will lose that plan when they upgrade to a new phone - except for a workaround, but one that's expensive. We will have more discussion on that option later.

Verizon calls the plan Share Everything. You can think of it as an extension of their existing Family Plans, as you share data, as well as minutes. However, these new plans all come with unlimited talk and text - it's the data that Verizon squeezes you on.

Anywhere from one to 10 devices can be on a Share Everything plan. That could include feature phones, smartphones and tablets. All of them have unlimited talk and text. As a bonus, Verizon is throwing in free mobile hotspot service. That's all well and good.

However, it's the data that kills you.

First, there is what is being called a Line Access Fee. It runs $40 a month for smartphones, $30 for basic phones, $20 for Jetpacks/USB modems/Notebooks/Netbooks, and $10 for tablets (there are specific plans for those with only basic phones).

The data tiers are:
  • 1 GB - $50
  • 2 GB - $60
  • 4 GB - $70
  • 6 GB - $80
  • 8 GB - $90
  • 10 GB - $100
You can see the numbers can add up quickly.

Currently, if you had, for example, two smartphones on grandfathered unlimited plans on the Nationwide Family SharePlan (1400) with 250 text messages each, it's about $160.

Those same two smartphones with the new Share Everything, and assuming, say, 6GB of data between them, would cost $240. Naturally, that's including unlimited talk and text, so this isn't an apples to apples comparison. However, there are some who don't need unlimited talk or text (admittedly, everyone with a teen probably needs unlimited text, but they could use Google Voice texting), and they have no choice in the matter.

Of course, as a bonus, Verizon throws in free mobile hotspot service for all devices on a plan, which used to cost $30 per device (at least for those on grandfathered unlimited data plans and using an LTE device). Once again, though, those who don't want or need this feature, or at least don't want it on all devices, get less choice.

On the positive side, someone wanting a single smartphone on a plan might do well, but once again ONLY if they want unlimited talk and text. Someone selecting that and a 5GB data plan now would pay about $140 vs. $110 on the new plans (using the closest data tier, 4GB). Add in the hotspot service and that's a real saving, although the hotspot service will gobble up your limited data, won't it?

The new Share Everything plans sound good as advertised, but once you look into the details, it's all about less choice for the consumer.

Keeping your unlimited data plan

As we said earlier, you will lose your unlimited data plan if you upgrade your phone after June 28. There is a way to keep your unlimited data plan, but it's expensive.

You only lose your unlimited data plan if you upgrade your phone and use the subsidy. If you opt for paying full price for the phone, which will be very expensive (the iPhone 4S, for example, starts at $649.99), you can keep your unlimited data plan.

In other words, if you have an upgrade coming, you should use it now. That also means, though, that the next time you need to upgrade, if you use the subsidy, you will lose that unlimited data plan.  You will need to buy un-subsidized devices - FOREVER - after that contract term is over.

This probably explains why the Samsung Galaxy S III is hitting Sprint and T-Mobile on June 21, but isn't coming to Verizon until July, after the June 28 cutoff date. You can also bet that the next iPhone, which is expected to have a bigger screen and LTE access, will force many customers to give up their unlimited plan - or pay full price.

Note: we confirmed with Verizon CS that the GS3 - even if pre-ordered now - will not qualify to keep your grandfathered unlimited plan, as it will be activated after June 28.

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