Consumer advice

Tiered Verizon Plans No Biggie for Most Customers, Says Consumer Reports

Most Verizon customers won't be shedding tears over new data-plan tiers, according to a new analysis from Consumer Reports.

[RELATED: T-Mobile's data cap embrace leaves Sprint as lone "unlimited" 4G carrier]

The product-testing and consumer survey magazine said today that the majority of Verizon customers will not see a spike in their wireless data costs, as it has found that monthly data useage "averages no more than about 500MB per month," or one-fourth of the 2GB data consumption limit in Verizon's new $30 plan. And since Verizon currently charges $30 for its standard unlimited data plan, the vast majority of users who stay under the 2GB cap will not see any increase in their monthly wireless bills. Users who typically consume more than 2GB of data a month can pay $50 for a 5GB plan or $80 for a 10GB plan.

Tiered Verizon Plans No Biggie for Most Customers, Says Consumer Reports
This doesn't mean Verizon gets a total thumbs up, of course. Consumer Reports also notes that unlike its rivals at T-Mobile and AT&T, Verizon is not offering a cheap data plan for users who use feature phones that don't utilize data-heavy applications. In other words, Verizon customers will find themselves paying $30 for 2GB of data no matter how little they consume while T-Mobile and AT&T subscribers have the option of getting 200MB monthly plans for $10 and $15, respectively.

As for as overage charges go, Verizon's decision to charge users $10 per extra GB consumed is the same as AT&T's $10 per GB charge, although AT&T does charge users a significantly higher $15 per extra MB of data they use if they subscribe to the low-cost 200MB data plan. T-Mobile doesn't actually charge users for data overages and merely knocks users down from its HSPA+ network to its slower EDGE network when they exceed the cap. Or put another way, you can use as much data as you want on T-Mobile's network but you'll find your connection speed drastically slowed if you go over your limit.

Consumer Reports' data also makes clear that Sprint is by far the best bargain for high-data users, as Sprint subscribers can get unlimited email, Web, video and text messaging for $30 per month over Sprint's WiMAX network. And if Sprint customers use a lot of data on their mobile phones, they can pay $70 a month for both unlimited data on the WiMAX network and 450 voice minutes.

Sprint CEO Dan Hesse has consistently said that Sprint and its partners at Clearwire have a strong enough combined spectrum portfolio to offer users unlimited mobile data without capping what they use. He has also said that the company could keep its plans unlimited by charging more if it eventually found that customers were consuming more data than the carrier could handle. Sprint still maintains a 5GB data cap for data consumed on its 3G EV-DO Rev. A network, however.

The wireless industry has been moving away from all-you-can-eat data plans and toward tiered service plans for the past couple of years. AT&T got the ball rolling on wireless data caps last year when it announced it was dropping unlimited data plans for the iPhone in favor of plans that offered between 200MB and 2GB of data consumption per month. Verizon and T-Mobile followed shortly after, leaving Sprint as the only U.S. carrier that still offered unlimited data plans.

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