A plea for truly simple shared carrier plans

A plea for truly simple shared carrier plans

Now that multiple devices, and multiple device households, have become more common, several carriers around the world have announced various types of shared plans in order to help customers simplify their billing and save some money. Although not too much money. And nowhere near as simply as their marketing typically suggests.

The problem is, instead of flat data chargers, carriers are adding per-device charges. Those charges can add significantly to the ostensibly reasonable data buckets, so even if families still end up saving money, it's not as much money as it appears up front.

Of course, carriers run on ARPU (average revenue per user) and while the humans behind them probably do want to cut families a break on cellular bills, the suits they're wearing compel them not to do it in a way that damages that revenue. But it shoudn't compel them to do it in a complex, ultimately customer-hostile way.

Carriers enjoy a legal (and poorly regulated) oligopoly that allows and even encourages them to abuse the customer relationship over the short term, in an effort to get the most money possible before times change and they inevitably become what they should be, what they fear most -- dumb pipes.

Hence, shared plans which are no different than your DSL or cable internet provider charging you for every iPhone, iPod, iPad, laptop, desktop and game system on your Wi-Fi network. It's no different than your local power company charging you for every fridge, dishwasher, microwave, TV, and gadget stuck into a plug.

And it's no different than ordering an extra large pizza, paying $20 for the pie, and then having to pay $10 extra for every person eating it.

People like to talk about Apple's reality distortion field, but really, they have nothing on carriers. There's an expectation of fairness in any consumer relationship. No one enjoys feeling like they're being bamboozled, hoodwinked, or otherwise taken advantage of. At the heart of any good financial dealing, customers like to feel they paid a fair price for a fair service. The simpler and more straightforward the dealing is structured, the better the chance the customer will come away happy. Carriers have traditionally been on the wrong side of consumer-friendly placing, but that can and should change.

Shared data plans should have one cost associated with them and one cost alone -- data.

Charge for the data, a small one-time activation or administration fee per device to cover any overhead, and that's it. That's all. Tell me a price for 100GB and let me pay it, and then leave me and my family to share it between ourselves, and our devices, as we see fit.

Anything else is bullshit.

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

More Posts



← Previously

AT&T announces new shared data plans

Next up →

Elevation Dock for iPhone review

Reader comments

A plea for truly simple shared carrier plans


the AT&T ones are huge improvements over their current pricing for unlimited voice + unlimited texts + limited data. it's a 30% cost savings for two lines setup that way for the exact same amount of data

The same can't be said for anyone who is still using their grandfathered "unlimited" data option. My bill would actually increase pretty dramatically.

I concur with you and Rene...it's all bullshit!

Can't wait until the day they're dumb pipes...seems like they have a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I called Verizon about the new shared plan. It would cost me 30 dollars more a month, I'd be capped with 4G data (unlimited for both iPhones right now) and all I'd get would be unlimited minutes (I use between 300-500 a month)

that's where they fall apart, the legacy plans.

when you lose unlimited data with your next verizon upgrade (unless you want to pay $650+ per phone) you should look into it again. the equation changes at that point

Carriers will always overcharge for the service. On the front end by charging too much for the product, or on the back end with overpriced data plans. You are basically at their mercy. I still believe if I pay for a data plan, how I use that data is my business. I should not pay a fee for FaceTime, using my iPhone as a hot spot, or any other stuck on fee. Just be fair, and you will have more customers that you can shake a stick at, and make more money in the long run.

I completely agree. I was just as shocked with the pricing when Verizon announced their shared plans. However, we all continue to begrudgingly pay these fees, so I guess it's working!

the new plans would cost me less $165 vs $185 and I'd move from limited voice and texts to unlimited. my question is how the FAN applies. I'll find this out before I decide.

My major issue is this:

At a time when data is king, the US carriers are trying to shove worthless (in most cases) unlimited voice and messaging plans down our throats.

I understand every situation differs, but my girlfriend and I currently share a 550 minute plan on AT&T. Halfway through our billing cycle, we've used a meager 75 minutes and 323 texts but have burned through 3Gb of data.

I know these new plans would be beneficial to some, but if we were to accept one of AT&T's new plans, we'd get unlimited voice and messaging (which we won't use) and pay $40 more/month.

One positive...at least AT&T isn't requiring an upgrade.

The whole reason for these new plans is to force people to pay for service they do not use. With the advent of the smartphone the number of minutes and texts has dropped across the board. People are starting to drop plans down to smaller rate plans. The solution for the Carrier is to only have one Texting plan for unlimited and to switch to only one phone plan for Unlimited minutes. They know people are using less minutes and texts because of smartphones but they don't want to reduce their income as people reduce their usage.

Text, Talk, Hotspots, Data are all just Data. We should just have to pay for a Data plan then we should be able to use it anyway we want. They could offer higher prices for subsidized phones but if you own your phone it should not be the same price as if they are providing you one at a subsidized price.

When minutes and text were kings, worthless unlimited data plans were "shoved down our throats" while minutes and messaging were (at a time) skimpy and high-priced. This evolution to limited data and unlimited minutes/messaging is logical. It could be better implemented, but it is logical none the less.

"several carriers around the world have announced various types of shared plans in order to help customers simplify their billing and save some money."

Should read more like: "several carriers around the world have announced various types of shared plans in order to confuse/screw customers with their billing and squeeze more money (or blood)."

This is an attempt to follow the business practices that many cable providers now do--offer very limited choices/options to customers by forcing them to purchase services they don't need. The famous bundle pkg called by cable providers--but shared plan called by cellphone providers. VZW and ATT should be investigated for this very suspicious business practice.

if google keeps their next nexus in the 350 range I am in and will say F'U slave contracts, i wish apple would keep the next iphone in that price range but i know it wont happen

Probably one the only articles I completely agree with. Very well written. Internet fees for computers is once a month flat rate for a certain amount of GB, why shouldn't it be the same for mobile devices? I have 125gb with Rogers and 6GB with my mobile plan. I always have wifi access with my home network but have lost connections on my mobile's network. I pay about $45 for my home network that works 99.9% of the time where as I pay as much as $75 for my mobile plan. Carriers need to get a grip on their prices.

Cellular is much more expensive to operate than grounded services like cable. However, a better plan could certainly be thought out. It will happen though...this is just growing pains of carriers trying to accomodate the onslaught of web traffic they probably "originally" never saw coming. Once they (the carriers) get caught up, prices will go down. That's how a capital market works.

there are cases the current plans are huge improvements.

Start with two smartphones with unlimited texting, unlimited voice and the current 3gb data packages. $120 + $20 + $20 + $30 + $30 = $220. The new 6gb share is $160 vs

Add a kid with a flip phone and the bump is the same. $10 for the line + $20 for unlimited texting. Add a kid with a smartphone into the same pool of data and it's a $30 savings for that line over the current way. So adding more smartphones suddenly becomes a realistic choice for a family. they're now not much more expensive.

Bumping to the $10gb pool is still cheaper for three at $210. With three phones on the account that's more data than individual 3gb plans and a smartphone is the same price as a non-smartphone for the line. It basically changes the equation.

it's also may be a deal for individuals who have a smartphone, tablet and internet card and use data to the limit on, say, the internet card for work
their 5gb internet card, 3gb ipad and 5gb phone unlimited plan with tethering is $70 + $20 + $50 + $50 + $30 = $220. Their new 20gb share plan is $260 but they have 7gb more and they can use it in more flexible ways. or they can cut the internet card and have 20gb on two devices for $240

Both AT&T and Verizon fall apart quickly with legacy plans. Verizon's is worth looking at for a family when they lose unlimited data with their next upgrade.
AT&Ts is worth looking at today for any family with two or more phones and unlimited everything except data.

yeah i will never buy a subsidized phone or sign another mobile contract again. i have my unlimited data plan i luckily switched back to like 2 days before it was retired on verizon and i plan to purchase every future handset from ebay.

verizon you are so evil, yes i will begrudgingly pay my dues as you have the best coverage in my area and i love my iphone, but you will never have me under contract again. i know my choice wont make much impact amongst a sea of ignorant consumers ready to buy what they are told by an uninformed sales rep trying to score a commission, but at least ill have the satisfaction of knowing im too smart to fall for your con.

"Charge for the data, a small one-time activation or administration fee per device to cover any overhead, and that's it. That's all. Tell me a price for 100GB and let me pay it, and then leave me and my family to share it between ourselves, and our devices, as we see fit.

Anything else is bullshit."

Preach, brother!

Well there technically is an ongoing cost for each line and I wouldn't mind paying $10 per line on top of a basic plan with a chunk of shared data, but yeah paying so much for each extra device is somehow wrong. Yet at the same time, the new plans will save us $40/month because we tether with 2 iPhones, text a lot (even after switching to iMessage where possible) and only need 4GB between us so I'll definitely be switching.