Verizon Shared Data Plans Go Live 'Midsummer'

Verizon says it plans to launch multi-device shared data plans by midsummer. The long-anticipated offer would allow subscribers with multiple devices to pay a single monthly fee to get data access for more than one gadget. The move could be a big win for people who connect, for example, an iPad and an iPhone to the carrier's data network or some other tablet-smartphone combination.

"We believe that [the shared data] plan, the way we have it designed, will enable our customers to easily connect other devices to that plan," Executive Vice president and Chief Financial Officer Fran Shammo said during Verizon's earnings call [PDF] on Thursday.

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Manage Your Cap

Shared data plans could be an important way for mobile subscribers to reduce costs since most major U.S. mobile carriers now favor monthly bandwidth caps instead of unlimited data plans. AT&T offered unlimited data for the iPhone beginning in 2007, but switched gears in June 2010 after years of criticism for poor service linked to iPhone users hogging bandwidth. Verizon temporarily offered unlimited data to iPhone users in early 2011, changing to tiered data plans by July in the same year. Sprint is currently the only major U.S. carry to offer an unlimited data option to its smartphone customers.

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Shared data plans may also require users to closely manage their data usage to avoid incurring excessive overage charges by exceeding monthly bandwidth caps. Overage charges could be especially problematic as more new devices come with high-definition screens and are designed to run on next-generation 4G networks.

A recent report from The Wall Street Journal detailed how users of the new Retina Display iPad discovered the LTE-compatible tablet was more data hungry than its predecessors. One person, for example, was shocked to find he burned through his 2GB monthly bandwidth cap after streaming just two hours of live basketball.

The FCC is aiming to help users avoid so-called bill shock with a new automatic alert system that warns you when you're coming close to using up your monthly allowance for voice calls, SMS, data, and international roaming.

What About Family Plans?

Verizon has yet to announce pricing for its new shared data plan or a specific launch date for the new shared data deal. It's also not clear if the company plans to announce a family data plan that would allow multiple household members to use a single monthly data allotment. Shammo in May 2011 raised the possibility that Verizon could offer family data plans, but didn't mention when the company might introduce multi-user shared data plans.

Sprint and T-Mobile currently offer shared data on family plans with up to two lines.

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