While attention has been shining on U.S. carrier Sprint as it is the lone carrier to offer truly unlimited data, does the carrier need to do more to deliver value to its customers? While unlimited data is a neat thing to have, most customers do not use that much data and recent surveys position data usage by the majority of customers to be under 1 or 2 GB of data per month max. That means, you may be paying for the security of knowing that if–and that’s a big if–that you go over any metered data plans offered on larger and more expensive rivals AT&T and Verizon, you’ll be safe and won’t be charged. However, given the likelihood of exceeding your data cap to be low these days given the ubiquity of WiFi hotspots, it may not make sense to be on an unlimited plan that may cost you more for less in the end.
As a smartphone user, I have recognized the value of Sprint’s–and AT&T’s and Verizon’s–unlimited offerings in years past as it made sense. In the early days of smartphones, WiFi hotspots were few and far in between, and public and free WiFi coverage was slow and unreliable at best. The times have changed and public hotspots are popping up in more places, almost guaranteeing access to the Internet for free in most places you frequent–work, shopping, schools, restaurants, buses and trains.
Given the trend, Sprint’s $110 smartphone plan for unlimited talk, text, and web sounds pricey. Add an additional smartphone and it’s another $100 to your bill, and the base 3 GB tablet plan for a tablet costs an added $35. At the end of the day, you’re looking at close to $250 for two phones and a tablet, the former two with unlimited data and the tablet with 3 GB.
AT&T’s Shared Data
On AT&T, unlimited talk and text start at $40 for the first smartphone and that includes 1 GB of data. Additional smartphones costs as much as $45 per line or as little as $30 extra depending on the plan. For this example, I am going to choose the 6 GB data plan with unlimited text and talk for $90 for the first phone. Add a second line for $35 and an additional tablet costs $10 extra. While all three devices share the 6 GB of data, you are paying $135.
Verizon’s Shared Plans
Verizon’s comparable plan to AT&T for 6 GB of data shared between two smartphones and a tablet as well as with unlimited talk and text costs $170.
The Verdict Between Friends
Talking casually to friends who maintain their busy corporate lives on their smartphones and tablets, many of those who are on grandfathered unlimited plans are beginning to see value in shared data plans. For the traditional office worker who are always within reach of a WiFi access point at home and at work, it makes sense as you’ll be saving money in the long run. These friends in my unscientific survey say they use less than 4 GB on the high end and average between 2-3 GB of data month-to-month between all their devices–which for the most part consists of two smartphones and a tablet.
For power users who may balk at ‘downgrading’ their data plans from an unlimited plan to a a family shared plan, you may want to re-consider based on your usage patterns, the number of devices you have. Selecting the right plan–whether if it’s Sprint’s truly unlimited or a shared family plan–will save you money throughout the life of your contract so do some quick math before you commit. With the iPhone 5 just around the corner and all four major carriers boasting huge LTE expansions in 2013, you’ll have a lot to think about.