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Verizon alters wireless data plans

NEW YORK — Verizon Wireless, the nation's largest cellphone company, is dropping nearly all of its phone plans in favor of pricing schemes that allow consumers to share data usage among up to 10 phones and other devices.

The new plans will let individuals add nonphone devices like tablets and laptops to their plans, as well as the phones of family members.

It's the biggest revamp in wireless pricing in years. The change takes effect June 28. Here's what you need to know:

What does it cost?

The so-called Share Everything plans include unlimited phone calls and texting, and will start at $90 per month for one smartphone and 1 gigabyte of data. Adding a tablet to a plan will cost $10 per month, a USB data stick for a laptop will cost $20, and an additional smartphone will cost $40. Verizon allows up to 10 devices on each plan.

Will Verizon convert me to a new plan, or can I keep my old plan?

Verizon won't switch you over to the new plan unless you ask. You can keep your old plan, even if you trade up to a new phone after that date and extend your contract. But for new customers, Share Everything will be the only alternative, with a few exceptions, starting June 28.

What type of customer should move to the new plan?

If you already have unlimited calling and texting plans, the new plans are likely to save you money, especially if you have a family plan. If you have a tablet, the new pricing scheme could be a good idea, too. Even if your tablet doesn't have a cellular modem, you may be able to take advantage of the plan, because it lets you create a "mobile hot spot" with your smartphone, so you can go online with your Wi-Fi-only tablet.

What if I have an "unlimited data" plan? Can I keep it?

Yes, you can. But — and there's a big "but" here — Verizon will no longer let you move the plan to a new phone after June 28, unless you pay the full, unsubsidized price for it. For most smartphones that will add hundreds of dollars to the price. A subsidized Verizon iPhone 4S costs $200. The price you'll pay if you keep your unlimited plan: $650. (Verizon stopped signing up new customers for unlimited a year ago.)

I'm a current Verizon customer with a 3G phone, but I need faster data downloads. Do I have to go to a new plan if I upgrade to a 4G phone?

No, you can keep your old plan. However, if you have an unlimited data plan, you'll be paying full price for that spiffy new 4G phone, as mentioned above.

I have a phone and tablet, but they're on different carriers. Can this plan work for me?

Probably not. The plan encourages you to use only Verizon-compatible devices. But if you have a Verizon smartphone and an AT&T iPad, you could cancel the AT&T service and use the hot-spot mode mentioned above. It's just not as convenient as having direct cellular access on the iPad.

I don't need a fancy data plan. I just want a regular phone, with no frills. Are the calling-only plans going away?

Almost. There will be only one plan for basic phones. It costs $40 per month and gives you 700 minutes of calling. Texting and data will cost extra. For this type of phone, there are cheaper, no-contract alternatives from many companies.

What can I do with 1 gigabyte a month?

Watch a little more than eight hours of YouTube-quality video, or listen to about 30 hours of streaming audio from a service like Pandora. Surfing through roughly 100 Web pages a day or posting 50 photos a day will eat up 1 gigabyte a month. Emails (without attachments) and text messages are generally tiny. Bottom line: If you like watching movies or Internet radio is your thing, you would be better off with more gigabytes. The monthly cost: $50 for one extra gigabyte, up to $100 for 10 more gigabytes.

Does the new service mean I can drop my home DSL service or cable modem?

Maybe, if you're a light Internet user. Adding a data stick or a Verizon-connected hot-spot device to your plan will cost just $20 per month. But home PCs often use a lot of data, especially if you like to watch Internet video. Many households use more than 10 gigabytes per month, the maximum allotment under Verizon's plan. That much data costs $100 per month.

Is the new Verizon plan cheaper than its competitor's plans?

That depends on a lot of factors, including the type of phone and the options. You can find cheaper plans, if you don't want unlimited texts and calls, and don't use your phone for watching videos or listening to Internet radio.

Keep in mind that other carriers are likely to copy Verizon's pricing strategy. AT&T has already said that it's looking at introducing shared-data plans soon.

Comparing old and new plans

Here's how the Share Everything Plan stacks up against some current Verizon plans.

Connected single

One smartphone with unlimited data, texting and 2 gigabytes of data.

Current nationwide single-line plan: $120 per month.

Share Everything: $100 a month.

Winner: Share Everything.

Frugal, connected single

The cheapest plans for that one-smartphone guy or gal are …

Current nationwide plan: $80 for one smartphone with 450 minutes of calling, 1,000 text messages and 2 GB of data.

Share Everything: $80 for one smartphone with unlimited calling, unlimited messages and 300 megabytes of data. (Up to nine nonsmartphones can be added to this plan for $30 each, sharing the data allowance.)

Winner: Current plan; it gives you more data.

Connected couple

Two smartphones with unlimited data, texting and 4 GB of data (shared under new plan, 2 GB for each phone under old plan).

Current Family SharePlan: $210 per month.

Share Everything: $150 a month.

Winner: Share Everything. It's cheaper.

Frugal, connected couple

Cheapest two-smartphone plans:

Current Family SharePlan: $150 for two smartphones with 700 shared minutes of calling, 1,000 text messages per line and 2 GB of data per line.

Share Everything: $130 for two smartphones with unlimited calling and texting, and 1 GB of data, shared.

Winner: Share Everything. It's cheaper, but gives you less data. If you need more, you can get 4 GB for a monthly bill of $150.

Always-connected couple

Two smartphones with unlimited calling, tablet and USB data stick.

Current plans: Total of $290 a month. That's $210 for the smartphones on Family SharePlan, plus $30 for the tablet and $50 for the data stick. Total data allowance is 11 GB, but it's split up over four devices, so it's hard to use it all in one month.

Share Everything: $200 per month, with 8 GB of data.

Winner: Share Everything. It's cheaper. You get less data in this example, but it's all in one pool, so it's easier to use it efficiently. For example, you could use 6 GB watching Netflix on your tablet one month, if you want. On the current $30-per-month separate tablet plan, you're limited to 2 GB per month.

Family

Two smartphones and two "dumb" phones.

Current Family SharePlan: $220. That's for 2,000 shared minutes, unlimited texting, and 2 GB of data for each phone.

Share Everything: $210. That's with unlimited calling, unlimited texting, and 4 GB of shared data.

Winner: Share Everything. It's slightly cheaper, gives you unlimited calling and makes it easier to use the data.

Verizon alters wireless data plans 06/13/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 13, 2012 12:13am]

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