US operators to introduce shared data pricing plans

Operators in the US are preparing to launch shared data plans, allowing multiple devices owned by an individual or members of a family to draw data from a single monthly allotment. The move is one of the first examples of innovation in data pricing, as operators struggle to reap dividends from increasing consumer data usage.

Mike Roberts, principal analyst and head of Americas at Informa Telecoms and Media, said that a precedent has already been set in the US with shared voice tarriffs already on the market, and it won’t be long before shared data becomes a key offering for all US carriers.

“We have heard Verizon say that it’s coming out with its data share plan in summer this year; AT&T has been less specific and said some time this year, they’re the dominant two carriers in the US. I haven’t heard it confirmed from the others but they are likely to introduce similar plans, as it will become one of the next phases in data pricing,” he said.

He added that, from the carriers’ point of view, the issue they need to address is how to move from individual to shared data plans in a way that would help, rather than hurt, data revenue margins.

“If they get it wrong, it could lead to people’s bills getting lower, which would not be good from a carrier point of view. The art for the carriers is to sell the appeal of shared plans as being more convenient and easier to manage. The head of the household could manage the one bill and have everyone on it and keep control without having to worry about multiple bills.”

He added that the operators that he’s spoken to about shared data plans admit that they face a tricky balancing act, as when they introduced family voice plans, voice usage went up quite significantly and operators do not want to encourage similar behaviour with data because data takes up more room on their networks than voice does.

“Verizon and AT&T are likely to go first – their prices are almost always at the premium end of the market. It may become more interesting when the second tier carriers – Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile USA come to market, because they tend to offer more competitive pricing,” he added.

One comment

  1. Avatar Tim Deluca-Smith 17/05/2012 @ 10:30 am

    A step in the right direction but does it go far enough?

    Sharing an allowance among family members is one thing – but will the operators limit the number / type of devices that the data can be shared between?

    If operators are going to position themselves in the ‘connected home’ space, the need for more transparent data plans that can be shared across multiple devices (including non-portfolio devices) has never been greater.

    Remember the era of netbooks with embedded 3G modules? The connection rates were dire. Even today the majority of tablet sales are wifi only. Consumers don’t see value in signing-up for ‘another’ data plan. They don’t want to consciously think about the device or network to which they’re attached and they don’t want a ‘data plan per device’.

    Let me buy a data allowance and use it (at my discretion) across the multiple devices in my home that I now rely on. Just issue me with a dozen SIMs associated to the same data bucket and let me do the rest – it’s not that far removed from using a mifi unit or creating a wifi hotspot on my handset anyway – just make it simple.

    Can someone give me a solid argument why this can’t happen tomorrow?

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