Would you pay for a shared data plan?

Verizon Wireless has again announced its intention to offer shared data plans this summer, but will they prove a hit with consumers?

Verizon is looking to appeal to data-hungry users by introducing shared data plans this summer.

Speaking at yesterday's conference call on first-quarter earnings, Chief Financial Officer Fran Shammo confirmed the company's intent to introduce such plans in the next few months. And Verizon is expecting these plans to fuel growth.

"There's going to be other categories that drive the growth of wireless in the future, as I said, we will be launching our data share plan in mid-summer this year," Shammo said, according to a transcript from Seeking Alpha. "We believe that, that plan, the way we have it designed, will enable our customers to easily connect other devices to that plan."

Verizon hasn't yet spilled the beans on the details of such plans.

But the approach is that families with multiple wireless users would be able to pool their allotment of data, just as they're now able to pool their voice minutes. So instead of each family member paying $30 per month for 2GB of data, as an example, the household as a whole would pay a higher amount collectively to share a certain amount of data.

Such plans might also benefit individual subscribers. Instead of paying separate monthly data fees for your smartphone, tablet, and cellular-enabled laptop, you might pay a single fee covering all three devices and pool your data among them.

The costs to consumers are as yet unknown. But they could potentially work the same as shared data minutes where you simply add an extra user for a relatively small monthly fee.

Households with several data users could see lower bills overall. But usage would have to be closely monitored.

As people gobble up more data for streaming video and other beefy content, they could easily max out on their pool of shared data. That could lead to throttling from the carriers or even more expensive bills from data overage costs, something both customers and carriers would have to manage.

The carriers themselves face challenges and benefits from shared data plans.

Setting up such a plan is harder than it may sound. Carriers will have to adjust their current billing and data policies to adopt a more "customer-centric approach," according to research firm Tekelec. That's one reason carriers have been slow to implement such plans.

"Shared data plans are the logical progression from shared voice and text message plans, but are exponentially more difficult to administer," Doug Suriano, chief technology officer at Tekelec, said in a statement at the time. "The operator's goal to provide a seamless and high-quality experience across all subscribers and devices requires new levels of network scalability and flexibility across multiple types of equipment."

But the benefits could be worth those initial challenges.

Consumers who already pay for a data plan for their smartphones don't necessarily want the added costs of a 3G/4G enabled tablet or laptop. But paying one reasonable price for shared data among all three could trigger more device sales and bring in more subscribers. And offering a shared data plan means that users will stick with the same carrier for all their devices, further boosting sales.

So far, Verizon is the only U.S. carrier with definite plans to forge ahead with shared data. AT&T spoke about such plans almost a year ago but hasn't officially provided a specific time frame or other details.

Assuming the costs are reasonable, would you consider a shared data plan? Or are you satisfied with your plan just as it is now?

About the author

Journalist, software trainer, and Web developer Lance Whitney writes columns and reviews for CNET, Computer Shopper, Microsoft TechNet, and other technology sites. His first book, "Windows 8 Five Minutes at a Time," was published by Wiley & Sons in November 2012.

 

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