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A Cheat Sheet for Verizon’s New Shared-Data Plans

Anton Troianovski

Verizon Wireless (VZ) has just rolled out a complex set of new plans that give users unlimited voice and texts and allows them to share a pot of data among multiple devices.

The obvious question: Should you switch? The answer: Only if you’re already paying too much.

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The new plans – which new customers will have to buy after they go into effect June 28 — are cheaper for smartphone subscribers who use unlimited voice and text but little data, but more expensive for subscribers who spend most of their time using data-heavy services.

The data plans begin at $50 a month for 1 gigabyte of data and range up to 10 gigabytes for $100 a month. You also pay a monthly device fee of $40 for each smartphone, $30 for each basic phone, $20 for each laptop and $10 for each tablet.

The many variables at work make it impossible to say flatly whether the new plans are more or less expensive, but looking at a few options for individuals and families show the dynamics at work.

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The cost of the cheapest smartphone plan with 2GB of data will rise, both for individuals…

CURRENT:  $70 (450 minutes, zero texts, 2GB data)
NEW: $100 (unlimited voice and texts, 2GB data)

…and for a hypothetical family with three smartphones:

CURRENT: $170 (700 minutes, zero texts, 2 GB data each)
NEW: $200 (unlimited voice and texts, 6 GB data)

Though the cost for heavy voice users will fall both for individuals…

CURRENT: $120 (unlimited voice and texts, 2GB data)
NEW: $100 (unlimited voice and texts, 2GB data)

… and for families:

CURRENT: $290 (unlimited voice and texts, 2 GB data each)
NEW: $200 (unlimited voice and texts, 6 GB data)

To help you figure out your options, Verizon published a pricing matrix and set up a website http://www.verizonwireless.com/b2c/splash/shareEverythingCalculator.jsp.

What the plans do is attack what Bernstein Research analyst Craig Moffett calls “bandwidth arbitrage” – using the mobile Internet service you pay for to replace carrier-based text and voice use. So while some of the plans will be cheaper for many users, they reduce your ability to cut back what you pay the carrier. Verizon and analysts generally see the new plans as a development that could boost revenue over time.

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Further reducing your options, Verizon also is in effect eliminating its unlimited data plans. You can hang on to them for now, but once you upgrade your device, you have to choose between the new data-bucket plans or Verizon’s existing tiered data plans. Either way, it’s curtains for all-you-can-eat once your device needs replacing.