Verizon Tiered Data: Should You Switch Your Smartphone Plan?

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Verizon Wireless Tiered Data

Verizon Wireless customers, be warned: The days of unlimited smartphone data are coming to an end. But only if you want them to.

Verizon is expected to announce a new tiered data plan for mobile customers next week. The news was first reported by Engadget and has since been corroborated by The Wall Street Journal and Reuters.

Provided that everything pans out the way we think it will -- remember, Verizon has yet to officially confirm this stuff -- the tiered data plan will be unveiled next Thursday, October 28. It'll give you 150MB of data usage for $15 a month. You'll then pay 10-cents a meg for anything over that amount.

Before you scream bloody murder, though, get this: You won't be forced to make the leap. All reports indicate that Verizon will give customers the option of sticking with unlimited data or switching to the new, cheaper choice. (New customers, too, will reportedly be able to select either plan.)

So is it worth making the switch to Verizon's tiered data offering? Maybe, but maybe not; it really just depends on how you use your phone. Read on to make an educated decision.

Verizon's Tiered Data Plan: Some Food For Thought

Verizon Tiered Data Plan

Right now, smartphone users pay 30 bucks a month for unlimited data on Verizon Wireless. In order for the new tiered data plan to benefit you, then, you'd have to use less than 300MB of data per month (based on the rate of $15 for 150MB plus $0.10 per each additional meg).

The question, then, is how realistic it is to stick to that 300MB-per-month level. Consider some of these stats: According to Verizon's own estimations, 300MB is equivalent to playing two hours of online games a day, visiting 25 Web pages a day, streaming 10 minutes of music a day, streaming two minutes of video a day, or uploading two high-resolution photos a day over the course of a month.

Put simply, if you're using your smartphone much, there's a good chance you're going to go over 300MB. And if you do, you'll end up paying more by being on the tiered data plan.

Wondering what's normal? Some recent data from Nielsen suggests average smartphone data consumption was just shy of 300MB back at the start of the year. That's a 230-percent increase from average data-usage levels one year earlier. Nielsen also points out that more than a third of smartphone subscribers are using basically no data -- a slightly puzzling thought -- so the monthly average is skewed a bit lower than it would be if only data-using customers were included.

You'll have to figure out where you fall in that spectrum to see whether Verizon's tiered data is a smart choice for you. If you're already using a smartphone on Verizon, it's easy: Just look back at past statements to see how high you've climbed from month to month. Or look on your smartphone's Verizon app to see where you are right now. (For what it's worth, I've used about 412MB on my smartphone so far this month -- and I'm only 10 days into my current billing cycle. Admittedly, I'm not your typical casual user.)

You might also want to check out this interactive data estimation tool on Verizon's Web site. It helps you piece together your usage habits -- whether you have a smartphone now or are thinking about getting one -- and then assess how much data damage you're likely to do.

Ultimately, it comes down to this: If you're confident you'll stay well below 300MB a month, Verizon's tiered plan -- as it's being reported right now -- will save you a nice chunk of change. But if you think you'll hit that 300 mark more often than not, you'd be better off springing for unlimited in the end.

JR Raphael is a PCWorld contributing editor and the author of the Android Power blog. You can find him on both Facebook and Twitter.

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