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:
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).
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.
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.