Unlimited data plans aren't what they used to be. As in, simple.
Verizon muddied the definition of unlimited further on Thursday with the introduction of a third, more expensive tier, titled "aboveunlimited." This comes on top of "gounlimited" and "beyondunlimited," which have varying degrees of features.
The nation's largest wireless carrier is also shaking up how you choose your plan, allowing you to mix and match different tiers within the same family plan. It's an acknowledgement that not everyone in the family has the same wireless needs. The result: a lot more options for customers -- if a little more confusion too. The new plan and changes go into effect on June 18.
The latest plans represent the ongoing evolution away from the once-coveted unlimited plan, an all-you-can-eat bucket of wireless service that covered all of your mobile needs. Verizon last year broke out its generous single unlimited plan into two options. Now they come with different elements like tethering and high-definition video -- as long as you're willing to pay more. The addition of a third option creates a grid-like chart of different tiers vs. number of lines.
"It's very simple," Ronan Dunne, president of Verizon Wireless, said in an interview Wednesday. "We're confident people will enjoy the choice."
Verizon is curiously introducing a more expensive option at a time when the rest of the industry is getting more competitive. Sprint last week introduced a plan that would cost $15 a month -- with no expectation to ever go up. T-Mobile offers Netflix for free, while AT&T throws in HBO with an unlimited plan.
Verizon has long pushed the idea that its network stands above the pack and that you're paying for a superior network.
"The further evolution of our unlimited portfolio announced today is in response to customer feedback," Dunne said. "Our customers value our superior network investment and experience - with the discount guys, you get what you pay for."
Competitors like AT&T and T-Mobile quibble with the claim, and Sprint has argued that the difference in network quality has narrowed considerably.
So how do the new plans work?
For your reference, here's a breakdown of all the plans. Note that the prices and details for the first two options haven't changed.
gounlimited: The lowest tier, which includes unlimited data, but only 480p streaming video and mobile hotspot speeds at 600 kilobits per second (which is slow). Prices range from $40 to $75 per line, depending on the number of lines.
beyondunlimited: "Premium" unlimited data, or high-definition video, for up to 22 gigabits before Verizon can throttle you and mobile hotspot at LTE speeds for up to 15 GB. Prices range from $50 to $85 per line.
aboveunlimited: The new plan includes unlimited data with HD video for up 75 GB before Verizon intervenes, as well as 20 GB of mobile hotspot data at LTE speeds, five "TravelPasses," which each offer a day of international data usage per month and 500 GB of Verizon Cloud service. Prices range from $60 to $95 per line.
Below is the full chart:
Customers first choose how many lines they want to get, and then look down that row to see the prices for the different tiers.
Dunne said customers are free to switch tiers at any point and existing customers can also make the change. He added that he would continue to look at customer insights and wouldn't rule out a cheaper option down the line.
He also dismissed the notion that this was too confusing, noting that the company has had the two unlimited tiers available for several months (the two tiers launched in August), so customers were used to this idea.
Still, this model could spawn a proliferation of new options across the industry.
"Customers are going to have to be smart," said Lynnette Luna, an analyst at Global Data. "It's only going to get more complicated.
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