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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.
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 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.
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.
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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