Verizon customers looking to save a few dollars on data should get their wish this year in the form of a shared family plan.
Answering questions at a Deutsche Bank conference on Monday, Verizon Chief Financial Officer Fran Shammo said the carrier will launch a family data plan by midyear (PDF). Specifically, Shammo referred to data sharing as "having the ability to connect more devices without having to in essence pay more for a bundle."
Many families would be happy to share budget-friendly data plans among their notebooks, smartphones, and tablets. Data plans for each separate device can easily cost $30 or more, making them very expensive or simply out of reach for the average family. But Verizon's concept extends a bit further into the future.
"Let's just take a household," Shammo said at the conference. "So you have a family; they have tablets; they have notebooks; they have their smartphones. Then you have to start thinking about then you have a washer and dryer, you have a refrigerator, and people are going to want to start to communicate with all of those devices. So when you think about connecting the devices to the network, it's more than just a smartphone and a tablet."
The CFO did caution that the move to shared data plans would require changes in account billing, meaning the option won't necessarily be available for everyone from day one.
"This is going to be a long-term migration into where we want to get data plan sharing, but this will be more of a 4G play for us and I think it will be critical for us," he explained.
Or course, Verizon doesn't want to lose money on such a plan, especially by migrating a lot of customers in one shot. So stretching out the move to family data plans helps ensure that the carrier doesn't take a hit all at once. But Verizon realizes that adding more devices to its network will ultimate benefit it.
"The fact is is that we need to give the consumers the ability to add devices as innovation continues on 4G LTE," Shammo added. "So we need to give the people ability to connect as many as they want. So it's not going to be all about a net add. It's more about revenue growth from the devices that are put onto the network."
The news confirmed earlier comments from Shammo that Verizon was looking into how best to implement a shared data plan.
Such family plans could certainly benefit data-hungry customers. I pay $30 a month for my iPhone's data plan but I own a Wi-Fi-only iPad. I also pay for a Virgin Mobile 3G account for my notebook but only in months where I use it.
Coughing up $90 a month for occasional data access for all three strikes me as too pricey, especially since I could instead opt for a tethering plan for my iPhone. But paying $50 or $60 a month for all three might be feasible.
And as Shammo said, such plans would eventually be profitable for the carriers since more users would likely opt for 3G/4G tablets, notebooks, and other gadgets, adding more devices to their networks.
Of course, if more devices hop onto the networks, the carriers face the ongoing challenge of managing the extra data. But that's another likely reason why Verizon will start slow and ramp up its family data plan over time.