Verizon: Say So Long to Unlimited Data

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Verizon Unlimited Data Plans
Got a smartphone on Verizon Wireless? Get ready to wave goodbye to the days of unlimited data.

Verizon will axe its unlimited smartphone data plan this summer, according to remarks made by the carrier's chief financial officer. Speaking at the Reuters Global Technology Summit on Thursday, Verizon CFO Fran Shammo (no relation to the ShamWow guy) said the company will soon roll out new tiered pricing plans and eliminate the current $30-a-month unlimited option.

According to Reuters, which reported the news, the move is designed to "force heavy data users to pay more for mobile data." Ouch.

Hang on, though: For most of us, it may not be nearly as painful as it sounds.

Verizon Smartphone Data Plans: Context and Perspective

First, some context: We've seen the end of Verizon's unlimited data coming for a while now. After AT&T eliminated its unlimited data plans last summer, Verizon execs hinted it wouldn't be long before they followed suit. Soon after, in October, Big Red seemed to test the waters, unveiling an option to get 150MB of data per month for $15 -- half the price of the unlimited plan. (Oddly, that option was discontinued a few months later.)

So for some perspective, let's assume Verizon's tiered data plans end up being roughly comparable to the ones offered by AT&T. Verizon hasn't released any specifics so far, but given the two carriers' general similarities in plan pricing, it seems like a reasonable guess that they might end up being in the same ballpark.

AT&T provides three base options for smartphone data usage:

• 200MB a month for $15

• 2GB a month for $25

• 4GB a month, with Wi-Fi tethering, for $45

There are actually a few additional options between the lines, too: If you pick the 2GB-a-month plan, for example, and go over the 2GB limit, AT&T automatically charges you an extra $10 and gives you an extra gigabyte to use. So for all practical purposes, you can get 3GB a month for $35.

In the grand scheme of things, then, if you use 2GB a month or less of smartphone data, you'd actually save money on this particular setup (which, again, may or may not be exactly what Verizon offers; it's simply a gauge to give us a general idea). If you use more than 2GB a month, you'd pay more.

Verizon's Plans and Your Smartphone Data Patterns

Verizon Smartphone Data Plans
So what's normal in terms of monthly smartphone data usage? It's hard to say. A study conducted by Nielsen last year suggested average consumption was right around 300MB a month. That total, however, included a lot of smartphone users who were using practically no data -- about a quarter of the sample, perplexingly -- so it's skewed somewhat lower than it would be if we were to look exclusively at data-using customers.

Famed New York Times tech writer David Pogue said last summer that he and his wife, combined, rarely go over 150MB of data per month. I, on the other hand, used almost 2.5GB in my most recent billing cycle and averaged about 2GB per month over the last six months. Yeah -- I know. But I'm certainly not your typical user.

Here's what's interesting, though: Even with my somewhat ridiculous usage, I might end up doing all right. With my six-month average, I could probably get away with a plan like AT&T's $25-a-month 2GB option, provided Verizon offers something similar. With that setup, I'd pay five bucks less on some months, when I stayed at or below the 2GB mark, and five bucks more on others, when I went over and needed that extra gig. Seems like it'd more or less balance out in the end.

Nielsen's study estimated that, based on 2010 data usage patterns, 99 percent of users would save money with a tiered model like AT&T's compared to an unlimited flat-rate approach. And there's another potential silver lining in the distant future: Verizon's CFO mentioned that the carrier would likely one day offer family-based data plans, where you could have one giant plan to share among multiple people and multiple devices. But it was a vague sort of statement, with no definite time frame attached, so don't hold your breath just yet.

For now, you can estimate your monthly data usage by heading over to Verizon's interactive data calculator. Or you can do like I did and just look back at several months of bills to manually calculate an average. Until we hear the specifics about Verizon's new tiered plans, of course, it won't tell you anything concrete about how much you'll pay, but it'll at least give you a feeling for where you fall in the overall spectrum.

Put it this way: If your totals are much higher than mine, you should probably grab the nearest piggy bank and start saving up.

JR Raphael is a PCWorld contributing editor and the author of the Android Power blog. You can find him on Facebook, on Twitter, or at his geek-humor getaway:

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