To Share or Not to Share? Comparing AT&T and Verizon's Shared Data Plans

By , dealnews Senior Feature Writer

Like it or not, shared data plans may be the future of the telecommunications industry. But are these plans real money-savers or will you end up paying more out of pocket each month? With AT&T being the latest mobile operator to jump on the shared data bandwagon (Verizon launched their plan in June), we decided to take a look at both plans to see which, if either, can save you money.

The Basics of Shared Data

A shared data plan allows consumers to use data on multiple devices (smartphones, tablets, cell phones) from one larger data plan. So rather than having one data plan per family member, for example, you'll have a single, larger data pool from which the family's various devices can share. Included in both AT&T's and Verizon's shared data plans are unlimited voice minutes and unlimited texting. In addition, both plans let you use your smartphone as a WiFi hotspot at no additional charge. However, for each carrier, there are various factors that can cause your monthly bill to rise quickly.

Verizon's Share Everything Plan

The Details
Verizon's Share Everything plan charges a flat fee per device connected to a shared data plan. One smartphone, for instance, would tack on an additional $40 per month to your bill; a tablet would cost you $10 per month over the cost of your data share plan. After crunching some numbers, we found that with Verizon's shared data plan, it's less expensive to couple data usage between a smartphone and a tablet, than it would be to operate them on two different data plans.

Looking at actual data costs, Verizon's shared data plan fees range from $50 for 2GB to $100 for 10GB. Should you need a plan with more data than what Verizon currently offers, Verizon charges an additional $10 per 2GB. (So a 12GB/month plan would cost $110.) Seems hefty? Well, if you choose a plan and surpass your data capacity, Verizon will charge you $15 per 1GB of data. Better to be safe than sorry, we think.

But the very best way to figure out if a data sharing plan will work for you is to carefully analyze your monthly usage, data and otherwise. The unlimited voice and texting that's bundled with Verizon's data plan is a huge perk (and potential money-saver), especially if you use a lot of talk minutes per month.

AT&T's Mobile Share Plan

The Details
With AT&T Mobile Share (which officially becomes available in August), the higher the data tier you select, the less you'll pay per month to have the required smartphone on your plan. For instance, a smartphone on a $40 1GB shared data plan will cost $45 (per month), whereas a smartphone on a $200 20GB plan will cost just $30 (per month). However, basic phones, laptop/netbooks, and tablets pay a flat fee of $30, $20, and $10, respectively, per month, regardless of how much data you get.

If you go over your data plan, AT&T charges $15 per 1GB consumed. Again, consumers who can potentially save the most with AT&T's shared data plan are those that primarily rely heavily on voice minutes and texting.

Which Plan Is Right for Me?

Verizon's and AT&T's shared data plans may seem difficult to understand at first due to a number of variables and possible scenarios. That's why your best bet is to first look at your own monthly talk, text, and data usage and then determine if any plan could save you money. (Both Verizon and AT&T provide tools for tracking your monthly data usage online and via your phone.) In both cases, those who are best suited to save are customers who currently go over their monthly allotment of minutes and text messages.

Likewise, smartphone users who have recently purchased a tablet that they want to untether from WiFi-only can also potentially save money with these new plans (as long as your data consumption is moderate). The same can be said of a family with multiple devices, although tracking usage across many devices is likely tricky and can potentially result in overage charges.

As we originally stated, shared data plans are the wave of the future. And although T-Mobile has made it clear that they're against shared data plans calling them "costly, complicated, and punitive," mobile operators have a history of following what the industry leaders are doing. But we'd like to know what your idea data plan is like.

Front page photo credit: Gotta Be Mobile

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An avid gadget lover, Louis Ramirez has covered technology for Gizmodo, CNET, Laptop, and various other publications. Follow him on Twitter at @LouisRamirez

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Louis Ramirez (DealNews)
Correct. You're looking at $115/month with AT&T's plan. Keep in mind that $115 doesn't include taxes and fees (which might add a few extra dollars). 
So the ATT 1GB plan costs $40, then need to add a smartphone (for a cost of $85 total) then if I add a regular phone another $30 for a final cost of $115/month?
Louis Ramirez (DealNews)
Yeah, absolutely. Verizon and AT&T both make it easy to check your data usage (both online or from your phone). You should also still receive that e-mail when he gets close to his limit, so monitoring usage shouldn't be a problem at all. And if you don't like the options VZ and ATT offer, there are also many third party apps to choose from. I've heard Onavo get good reviews on a few occasions (for iOS and Android).
So, I think I might save a few bucks with the shared model; however...

My teenage son is the biggest consumer of data in our household. Today, I receive an email when he gets close to his individual limit. Under a shared plan, will be there any mechanism for monitoring usage by the device, setting up alert thresholds, etc.?
I think the second answer in this poll really could have been split into a pair of separate options.

I think the folks for whom this would be too expensive probably
don't think it's too confusing...and the folks that think it's too
confusing are probably overpaying to begin with.
It seems like a bit of a juxtaposition!
I still can't get over the fact that all of these plans basically charge you twice for data if you elect to use a laptop or tablet.  You can't use those devices to make calls over the voice network, and you've already paid (and paid dearly) for the data.  What is the justification for the monthly charge for using a tablet to connect to my data plan?  Just charge me an activation fee and let me connect it.  This was nothing more than a money-grab by the big guys, plain and simple.  They see voice and text usage going down as people switch to data-based services like Facebook Messenger and Skype, so they make the only voice option "unlimited" and charge a premium for service you weren't using much of. 

I predict that we'll watch adoption of these plans stagnate much in the way adoption of Windows 8 will stagnate.  People might stick with Verizon or AT&T because of coverage penetration, but they won't be switching to these ripoff plans very soon.
Louis Ramirez (DealNews)
It actually looks like AT&T nixed their 2GB data plan at the start of the year, and as far as data sharing plans go -- they don't seem to have any specific data requirements for the iPhone. They actually don't have a 2GB plan in their data share model. Keep in mind, AT&T's plan will launch in late Aug and they might tweak certain parts. But for now, there doesn't appear to be a 2GB requirement for any smartphone.
Is ATT changing their required 2gb data plan for iPhones? I don't see that option listed in the article.