AT&T vs Verizon in shared-data pricing plans

This year will see shared-data pricing plans being rolled out by both AT&T and Verizon and it will be an important faceoff for the wireless service industry. It’s not yet known which carrier will announce its move first and with billions of dollars involved it seems that neither of the giant carriers is eager to be first to the mark in what will become the intriguing battle of AT&T vs. Verizon.

The rollout of the new plans will be an industry changer and it’s thought that there could be an announcement next month. The problem that both AT&T and Verizon have is getting the balance right in the development, which if handled properly should reduce customer turnover and bring more users to data plans. If either carrier gets it wrong there’s a risk that network traffic and the cost of maintaining the networks will rise while the income from subscribers lessens.

The aim of the new shared plans is to enable customers to split one bucketful of Internet data over their phones, tablets and other wireless devices. In theory this should bring economic benefits to families, small businesses and heavy users of Web-connected devices. Chetan Sharma, an independent wireless analyst, points out that when AT&T and Verizon progress with their shared-data pricing plans, T-Mobile and Sprint are unlikely to be far behind and says, “they are watching each other,” according to Delaware Online.

With the data plan market bringing in a massive $62.7 billion last year (CTIA figures) it’s a lucrative market and it’s understandable that the carriers are being cautious in an effort to avoid getting it wrong. The increasing amount of data-intensive features on devices and the fact that more and more consumers are finding these features easier to use means that the data plan market is one that will only continue to grow, at least for the foreseeable future.

Current family plans on offer from carriers concentrate more on calls with users and devices assigned individual data plans that usually cost between $10 and $50 each. Delaware Online also makes the point that current Internet-sharing plans on offer are usually for WiFi access rather than cellular connections. However, in Canada Rogers began offering shared data plans in 2009 reaping big rewards. Rogers Communications vice president Reade Barber says that data users at Rogers “just exploded” and that now over a quarter of the company’s family plan subscribers are using shared data plans with many more people now using data. The shared-data plans offer temptation for customers who currently only use voice or text plans but the downside for carriers is that some customers already paying for individual data plans will consolidate them to save money.

Another thing to consider is the balancing act between network traffic and costs increasing as more currently unused data would be used up, while on the other hand carriers could benefit from customers becoming more dependent on data usage. In the longer term it’s likely that more affordable shared data plans will lead to even more mobile devices being purchased and used. So will it be AT&T or Verizon that heads out of the trap first with shared-data pricing plans?

It seems that Verizon may feel more pressed to rollout its new plans first in a bid to urge users to add more gadgets to those they already use. Sharma points out that this urgency for Verizon is more likely because AT&T has the advantage in this area after being the carrier chose by Apple to launch the first iPad back in 2010. Although both carriers now offer the iPad, AT&T had the initial advantage. Fran Shammo, Verizon’s Chief Financial Officer has not issued a precise timeframe for the rollout but said new data share plans are likely to launch in the summer and that Verizon is set to be “the leader in this category.”

AT&T hasn’t yet been drawn on when it will launch its shared-data plans with the president of the company’s mobility division Ralph de la Vega merely saying, “We’ll have something later this year.” Meanwhile both Sprint and T-Mobile don’t appear to be in a hurry to launch shared data plans, despite Sharma’s earlier assertion. Sprint’s vice president of operations and business planning, Will Souder, believes the moves could make it more difficult for families to track their data usage and that they could end up paying more than they expect.

However Strategy Analytics claim that over 60% of smartphone users would like to find out more about shared data plans so in many respects it would seem likely that all the major carriers will be offering shared-data plans before too long. We’d like to know what our readers think about the upcoming rollout of shared-data pricing plans from AT&T and Verizon. Depending on pricing is this something that you would be interested in? Do you think AT&T or Verizon will come up with the better options? Send your comments to let us know.

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