How will Verizon's share everything plans affect you?

Ask Maggie answers questions about Verizon's new share plans, offering insight about how to handle data hogs and whether unlimited users can still get the Samsung Galaxy S III for a discount.

Verizon Wireless announced its new share everything plans last week, and subscribers are still confused and trying to figure out what the new plans will mean for them.

In the last edition of Ask Maggie, I tried to answer some of the most commonly asked questions regarding the plan. And now in this edition, I answer some specific questions from subscribers still confused by the changes. I've received lots of e-mails asking questions about the new service plans. And I'll do my best to answer as many as I can.

Pre-order the Samsung Galaxy S III before June 28 and keep your unlimited data plan

Dear Maggie,
I read your article about the Verizon Wireless share plan and the confusing details of it. I am currently part of the unlimited grandfathered group, and I have heard a lot of different advice to keep the unlimited plan.

I saw that you talked about paying full price for a new phone to keep the unlimited data, but does that include when you switch from a 3G phone like the iPhone 4 to a 4G LTE phone?

My contract is already up, and I want to get the Samsung Galaxy S III. But that phone won't be available before June 28. I have heard that if I pre-order the phone, I'll lose the unlimited plan regardless of paying full price. Is there any truth to that; the original statement from Verizon was a little vague on that detail? Any help in this area would be of great help!

Thanks,
Kyle

Dear Kyle,
I've got some great news for you and anyone else who wants the Galaxy S III and is eligible for an upgrade right now on Verizon Wireless. If you have an unlimited data plan and you are eligible for an upgrade before June 28, you can pre-order the Galaxy S III and get it for the subsidized price while keeping your unlimited data plan for your next two-year contract.

Samsung Galaxy III
Samsung Galaxy III Josh Miller/CNET

After June 28 when the new plans take effect, you will have to pay full price for the Galaxy S III or any other smartphone you may want to buy if you want to keep your unlimited data plan.

It doesn't matter if you are upgrading from a 3G smartphone to a 4G smartphone or a 4G smartphone to another 4G smartphone. If you have an unlimited data plan, you will not be able to keep that plan when you upgrade your phone if you want a subsidized price. If you are willing to buy it at full price, you can keep the the unlimited data plan.

I hope that was helpful. Good luck!

The iPad and Verizon's share plan

Dear Maggie,
If I keep my old unlimited data plan with my iPhone, how can I add the iPad to my plan?

Thanks,
Bonnie

Dear Bonnie,
You can keep your unlimited data plan and still add an iPad through Verizon's old plan. So this would mean that you keep the unlimited data plan for iPhone. And then you'd sign up for a separate tablet pay-as-you-go plan starting at 2GB of data for $30 a month. (You can also pay more for higher capacity plans ie $50 for 5GB and $80 for 100GB.)

But keep in mind that if you want to upgrade your smartphone and get a subsidized price for that device when you upgrade, you will have to give up the unlimited data plan. The other option is to buy your new smartphone device at the full retail price. But you cannot share your unlimited data plan with your iPad. The only way to share data across devices is through the new family share plans.

Depending on how much you plan to use your iPad, it may make sense to move to the share plan anyway. The share plan includes hotspot connectivity that turns your smartphone into a mobile hotspot. So if you have a Wi-Fi-only iPad, you'll still be able to use it wherever you get 4G wireless service so long as you have your Verizon smartphone with you. This is a good deal because the the Wi-Fi-only iPads are $130 cheaper than the ones with 3G and 4G cellular radios built-in.

Under Verizon's old plans, the company charged an additional $20 a month for this feature. Now for $110, you can get unlimited voice and texting, plus 4GB of data that you can share with your tablet. This could be a better deal than the old plan, which could cost you $40 for a 450-minute voice service, $20 for unlimited texting, $30 for 2GB of data for your smartphone and another $30 for an additional 2GB of data. And if you wanted to use your smartphone as a hotspot, you had to pay another $20. In total, your monthly bill for all these services would be $140 a month.

Of course, the old plans can be scaled back to save money. For example, you could eliminate the unlimited text plan and get a $10 plan that gives you 1,000 text messages a month. You could also get rid of the hotspot feature for the smartphone and save another $20.

But there are also ways to save money on the new share plans as well. If you don't use a lot of data, you could subscribe to a plan with less capacity. Either way, you can scale up or scale down your plans to fit your needs as best you can.

I hope that helps answer your question. Good luck.

Keeping tabs on 'data hogs' on the share plan

Dear Maggie,
Discussing the new family share plans from Verizon with neighbors, we all seem to have the same concern: the teen-age data hog! We all have the same fear that the "data hog" will not leave any data for the rest of us and the plan would cost significantly more than stated because the shared data would consistently exceed the plan limit.

I have my "data hog" on restriction where if he runs out of data during the month, he is cut off until the start of the next cycle. This is achieved by a block on the phone number to deny anything that would add charges to the account. Unless there is a way to limit the maximum data that this particular phone could use within the month, the new plan is nothing I'm interested in.

Do you know if there is a way to limit an individual's maximum data consumption within the plan? I have an iPhone, three smartphones, a Mi-Fi modem and a feature phone on my plan.

Thank you,
Sally

Dear Sally,
I've got some good news for you. You can still limit the data hog in your family through the Verizon parental controls. Through these controls, which will cost you $4.99 a month, you can limit the data usage on a specific phone number on your family plan. You can also limit, voice, text and data usage by certain times of day so that your family "data hog" isn't using these services during school or when he or she should be sleeping.

Good luck!

What to do about a massive data hog on your share plan

Dear Maggie,
I appreciate you trying to figure out this Verizion stuff. I am sure having a hard time figuring out what to do for my family. We have had a family plan (it started with Alltel then Verizion bought them out). We have 1200 minutes between the four of us. We all have smartphones with unlimited text and unlimited data. Three of us use very little data. But one person on our plan uses A LOT of data. He alone used 12GB in a month. Can you tell me what our best option is?

Thanks,
Kathy

Dear Kathy,
Wow, 12GB in a month is a lot! Going to a share plan with this heavy data user on your plan would be very expensive. He'd easily hog your entire data plan. Under the share plan, his service alone would cost $150 per month. By contrast he could get an individual plan with 450 minutes of voice for $40 a month, unlimited text for $20, and the unlimited data for $30 a month. In total this would cost him $90 per month. That's a savings of $60 a month over the share plan with 12GB worth of data per month.

With this in mind, I'd recommend that this individual leave your family plan and get his own plan when his contract ends. To keep the unlimited data plan, he will have to pay full price for a new phone if he wants to upgrade his device. But if he really uses that much data every month, keeping his $30 unlimited data plan will save him $1,440 over the 24-month contract period, which is much more than it would cost to buy a new phone. So in this case, it makes sense for this individual to buy his next phone at full retail price.

As for the rest of you, if you are light data users, you'd probably save more money in a share plan.

So here's what you should do. Keep the plans in place that you are currently using. And when the heavy data users' contract is up, he can switch to an individual plan. The other three people left on the family can then switch to a family share plan. A Verizon spokeswoman confirmed that this would work. But one thing to keep in mind, this individual can't move to an individual plan until his existing contract ends. Also, before you move the other three people in the family plan to the share everything plans, look at your usage patterns to figure out how much data in total you'll likely need. If you are truly low-data users, you may be able to get away with 2GB of data per month or less.

What about feature phones and the share plan?

Dear Maggie,
Thanks for your clear column on the Verizon rate changes! I now understand a lot more than I did. One thing is still unclear to me, though.

Are all non-smartphones considered feature phones? My 86-year-old mother has enough of a challenge when she gets a new flip phone -- she's never going to use any data. My husband also has no interest in anything other than basic phone functions. Would the charges for those phones really go up $20 per month? Or does "feature phone" mean something like a BlackBerry?

Thanks,
Beverly

Dear Beverly,
Verizon says it won't force any of its subscribers into a plan that they don't want. When it comes to the feature phones, you can keep your existing plans. And when it's time to upgrade your phone, you can upgrade and still either get your phone for free or pay a much reduced price. In fact, any customer who wants to keep his existing plan can keep it and get the phone subsidy, except for customers with unlimited data plans. Those customers will have to change their plans when they upgrade if they want a discounted phone. Or they can pay full price for the phone and keep the unlimited data plan.

If you have multiple phones on your account, using the family share plans may actually save you money.

A feature-phone refers to a phone, like the flip-phones your mother uses that do not use sophisticated operating systems, such as iOS or Google Android. These phones generally have less robust features and functionality when compared to smartphones. But many of them are able to connect to the Internet via a mobile browser and run apps.

The BlackBerry is actually a smartphone, although some would argue not as smart as an iPhone or Android phone. Because of the way the BlackBerry handles data, it actually uses less data than other smartphones.

A Verizon spokeswoman I talked to said that a user with a BlackBerry, who mostly uses his phone for emailing, and a feature phone could easily get the 300MB service for $70 a month. That will also include unlimited text and voice service for one phone. Adding one more feature phone would cost another $30 for a total of $100 a month.

I hope this answered your question. I wish you the best of luck!

Ask Maggie is an advice column that answers readers' wireless and broadband questions. The column now appears twice a week on CNET offering readers a double dosage of Ask Maggie's advice. If you have a question, I'd love to hear from you. Please send me an e-mail at maggie dot reardon at cbs dot com. And please put "Ask Maggie" in the subject header. You can also follow me on Facebook on my Ask Maggie page.

 

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