AT&T and Verizon shared data plans compared

With the introduction of AT&T's Mobile Share this morning, the two largest mobile operators in the US (the other one, of course, being Verizon) have officially embraced the idea of pooled data plans. The concept is simple: bundle talk, text and data together in the same family plan, instead of forcing each individual member to pay a separate fee if they want internet access. With the announcement of these plans, we were instantly curious to find out if these new options will save customers money on a monthly basis -- and which company offers the best value. Determined to get some answers, we've broken down AT&T and Verizon's plans and will highlight the pros and cons for you after the break.

On the surface, both companies offer nearly identical plans. Your family will receive unlimited talk and text, and the variation in cost will ultimately depend on how many devices you want to be covered by these plans (you can put up to 10 on each group), and how much data you want to share across those devices. Smartphones, feature phones, tablets, hotspots and even computers can be covered under the same umbrella of data. What about tethering? It's all included as part of smartphone data, which is a welcome feature that should've been included in previous internet plans regardless.

No matter how many devices you add to your group, you'll be responsible for paying a base fee. The more internet usage you need, the higher the charge. From there it all depends on the kinds of gizmos you select: on Verizon, each individual smartphone adds $40 to your monthly bill, basic phones are $30, hotspots are $20 and tablets are $10. AT&T charges the same for feature phones, hotspots / netbooks and tablets, but your smartphone data cost goes down if you choose a higher usage allowance.

Let's break down the monthly access costs for both companies:

AT&T Mobile Share plans
Mobile share with Unlimited Talk & Text 1GB 4GB 6GB 10GB 15GB 20GB
Base account access fee $40 $70 $90 $120 $160 $200
Each Smartphone + + + + + +
$45 $40 $35 $30 $30 $30
Overage: $15 per GB
Verizon Share Everything plans
Mobile share with Unlimited Talk & Text 1GB 2GB 4GB 6GB 8GB 10GB
Base account access fee $50 $60 $70 $80 $90 $100
Each Smartphone + + + + + +
$40 $40 $40 $40 $40 $40
Overage: $15 per GB
Additional device costs on AT&T and Verizon
Basic and quick messaging phones Laptops, LaptopConnect cards and Netbooks Tablets and gaming devices
$30 each per month $20 each per month $10 each per month

As you can see, the two companies differ slightly in their plans. These are very subtle differences here, but may very well affect which plan (or carrier) you choose to go with. AT&T has six tiers spread out between one and 20GB; Verizon offers seven tiers between one and 12GB on its website, which means you're given a bigger variety of options on the lower end of the spectrum. Big Red reportedly has thrown in plans all the way up to 20GB, but these options aren't widely publicized. The mysterious tiers are offered in 2GB increments and the base fee increases by $10 for each. This means that Verizon's 20GB plan will be $50 less than AT&T's.

Next, we're going to analyze exactly how much your monthly cost should be if you're on a plan by yourself, if you have two smartphones or if you're in a group of four (assuming two of them are feature phones).

AT&T Unlimited talk / text + monthly data allotment One smartphone Two smartphones Two smartphones + two basic phones
1GB $85 $130 $190
4GB $110 $150 $210
6GB $125 $160 $220
10GB $150 $180 $240
15GB $190 $220 $280
20GB $230 $260 $320
Note: doesn't include taxes and fees. Overage is $15 per GB. Tethering included in plans.
Verizon Unlimited talk / text + monthly data allotment One smartphone Two smartphones Two smartphones + two basic phones
1GB $90 $130 $190
2GB $100 $140 $200
4GB $110 $150 $210
6GB $120 $160 $220
8GB $130 $170 $230
10GB $140 $180 $240
12GB $150 $190 $250
Note: doesn't include taxes and fees. Overage is $15 per GB. Tethering included in plans.

As we mentioned earlier, the differences are incredibly subtle. In fact, the only time we could sniff out any advantage for either company was if the customer only uses one smartphone. In this case, AT&T is cheaper on the 1GB plan, while Verizon is the better deal for 6GB and 10GB. Ultimately, cost advantage will largely depend on how much data you need, so you'll definitely want to look hard at the above charts to make sure your decision gets you the best value.

There are some unfortunate side effects to these plans. First, in what seems to be an effort to streamline their options, both AT&T and Verizon's shared plans only come with unlimited talk and text. What if you make very few calls and send only small number of texts? AT&T will continue to offer its current plans in tandem with the new ones when they launch in August, which will give you the chance to go with fewer minutes; Verizon's older plans, on the other hand, are no longer available on the company's website.

It's also important to point out that in many cases, these new plans aren't actually shaving money off of your bill but rather shifting your features around a bit. Let's say you currently have a 700-minute family plan with two lines, unlimited messages and 3GB data, giving you a total monthly cost of $160. With Mobile Share, you're getting the same amount of data and your bill will stay exactly the same. So what's the difference? For this scenario, your main benefits for switching would be unlimited minutes and the mobile hotspot feature thrown in for free.

Below we've compiled some of AT&T's and Verizon's previous family plans so that you can compare prices of the shared data plans with what was offered by both companies before.

Current AT&T plans (minutes + unlimited text) One smartphone (3GB data) Two smartphones (3GB data each) Two smartphones (3GB each) + two basic phones (no data)
450 mins $90 N/A N/A
550 mins N/A $150 $170
700 mins N/A $160 $180
900 mins $110 N/A N/A
1400 mins N/A $180 $200
Unlimited $120 $210 $310
Note: doesn't include taxes and fees. Overage is $10 per GB. Tethering not included in plans. To calculate higher data usage, AT&T's 5GB plan is an add'l $20 per smartphone. Each add'l line is $10
Previous Verizon plans (minutes + unlimited text) One smartphone (2GB data) Two smartphones (2GB data each) Two smartphones (2GB each) + two basic phones (no data)
450 mins $90 N/A N/A
700 mins N/A $160 $180
900 mins $110 N/A N/
1400 mins N/A $180 $200
Unlimited $120 $210 $310
Note: doesn't include taxes and fees. Overage is $10 per GB. Tethering not included in plans. To calculate higher data usage, Verizon's 5GB plan was an add'l $20 per smartphone, while 10GB was an add'l $50. Each add'l line is $10.

Overall, these new choices probably won't make a significant dent in your monthly bill if you have a small family plan with only smartphones, but it could be a blessing for anyone that needs to take advantage of tablets or USB data sticks (since customers can now use their smartphone as a mobile hotspot and save $20 per month, however, we doubt this will be of interest to most people). On AT&T, the number of options for tablets and MiFis are few: a 5GB plan will run $50 on both types of devices, while you can get 3GB and 250MB tablet plans for $30 and $15, respectively. Verizon, on the other hand, previously offered mobile broadband for a minimum of $30 (for 2GB) and went as high as $80 (for 10GB). Tablet plans were $20 for 2GB. This means that the shared plans are better if you don't need to bump up your total allowance.

Shared data plans offer some benefits, but they won't live up to the expectations of customers who are hoping for a magical way to lower their bill. $40 for each smartphone (and $30 for each featurephone) seems to be a pretty steep asking price -- especially when this is already on top of the base fee. We'd love to see more plans offered, particularly ones that offer fewer minutes for a lower cost.

Not that we can really be completely shocked by how everything turned out: asking carriers to cut their bottom line would be like asking your best friend to hack his arm off. So will you be dialing up customer service to change your account when the time comes? Ultimately, the best way to determine if these new plans are a good fit is to compare your current features and monthly cost with what the shared plans offer. While both companies have slight advantages in different areas, you'll be hard-pressed to see a clear winner between the two. That said, AT&T is approaching this the right way -- for now, at least -- by allowing new and upgraded customers to choose between its Mobile Share and old-fashioned plans.