Critics and users are crying foul over AT&T and Verizon's new shared data pricing structures that let you share one bucket of data with up to 10 devices. PC World readers commenting on AT&T's new Mobile Share plans described the news as "atrocious," "insane," and "ridiculous." Verizon introduced its Share Everything plans in June.
Harry Thomas, T-Mobile's director of public marketing, also got in on the shared data bashing, saying in a statement to PCWorld that the new plans were costly, complicated, and punitive for consumers. "T-Mobile does not plan on introducing shared family data plans and believes consumers will not benefit from that model," Thomas said.
But are the shared data plans from AT&T and Verizon really that bad? It all depends on your needs. If you're just one person using one smartphone and a tablet, then shared data plans could be a bit pricey. But if you've got an army of mobile device users at home, then you may actually benefit from the new plans.
Here are a few things to consider about the new trend of shared data plans.
Who Needs Unlimited Talk?
One of the big tradeoffs with the new shared data plans from AT&T and Verizon is that you get unlimited calling minutes. This sounds like a great deal, but does it justify the added expense of a shared data plan? How often do you exceed the average basic monthly calling allotment of 450 minutes? Especially when you have other communication options such as text messages, e-mail, and Facebook. Unless you are a big talker or are supporting multiple phones on one plan, the shared data option may not be for you.
Know Your Data
One thing you want to watch out for on either the shared or tiered data plans is your overage charges for using extra data. On Mobile Share and Verizon's Share Everything plan, you pay $15 for every extra gigabyte you use -- AT&T's tiered data plans from 3GB and up charge $10 per extra gigabyte. Those charges may not seem like much, but it adds up if you're not careful.
Tiered Data vs. AT&T Mobile Share
Let's say you want to connect a smartphone and an iPad to AT&T. A current AT&T customer with a basic tiered data plan would be paying $40 per month for 450 calling minutes, an extra $20 per month for unlimited messaging, and another $30 for 3GB of data. So for $90 you have your smartphone covered, and you can pay another $30 for 3GB for your iPad for a total of $120 per month.
Now, if you go with Mobile Share to get a similar deal, you would pay $125 for a smartphone with 6GB of data and an extra $10 to add your iPad for $135 total, $15 more than on the tiered plan. On Verizon, a similar Share Everything plan would set you back $130.
On AT&T if you decide 6GB was too much data, you can drop down to the 4GB plan but then you're paying $120 a month, the same as you were before, but with 2GB less data. And if 4GB isn't enough for you and you end up going over your monthly limit, AT&T will tack on $15 for every extra gigabyte, meaning you could pay $150 if you hit 6GB of data usage in a given month.
Another added benefit of a mobile share plan is that you don't have to pay a convenience fee or sign-up for a larger amount of data to use your smartphone or tablet as a Wi-Fi hotspot. AT&T requires tiered data users to pay $50 per month for a 5GB tethering plan. Using the tethering option on a shared data plan will use up your monthly allotment of bits, but you save some money by losing the tethering fee.
The More the Merrier
Single users paying for just two devices may not see a lot of upside in the new trend of shared mobile data, but for families the new plans could really pay off. If your family is using two smartphones, two feature phones and one iPad, AT&T's tiered data plan will set you back about $250 per month for 2,100 shared calling minutes, unlimited text message, and three gigabytes of data each for your smartphones and the iPad. For that same price on AT&T's Mobile Share you get unlimited calling and texts, and 10GB of shared data. So you get unlimited calling minutes in case you need them, and you get an extra gigabyte of shared data for free. If you went with Verizon Share Everything, you'd also pay $250 for two smartphones, two feature phones, and an iPad using 10GB of data and unlimited calling and texts.
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