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Unlimited Data Options Grow Limited

The all-you-can-eat era of smartphone data plans is nearing the end.

Photo: pkchai / Shutterstock.com

Verizon said Wednesday that customers still on its $30-a-month unlimited plan – which was already discontinued for new users — may be forced to switch to new usage-based billing when they next renew their contract. “You will have to go onto the data share plan,” CFO Fran Shammo told attendees at the J.P. Morgan Technology Media and Telecom conference. The new pricing and other details have yet to be announced, although the plans will likely allow customers to share data allotments between multiple devices. A Verizon spokesman declined to provide further details.

AT&T and Verizon both eliminated unlimited plans for new customers last year. Existing customers have so far been allowed to keep the perk, even after their contracts expired. Experts say that’s changing fast as carriers look to data plan revenue to build up their networks. “I don’t think there’s any way at this point to keep any unlimited plan for very long,” says technology consultant Alex Goldfayn, author of “Evangelist Marketing.” Adds Todd Day, an industry analyst for Frost & Sullivan: “All of the carriers will go toward tiered data pricing.”

But Verizon customers may have ways to keep their unlimited plan a little longer. Right now, just 20 of the carrier’s 53 new and pre-owned smartphones are 4G ready, which could mean customers who hang on to their current handset or upgrade to another 3G phone won’t need a new data plan just yet.

Consumers also have a few lingering opportunities to chase unlimited plans. Sprint and T-Mobile both offer them, although T-Mobile says it will slow data speeds for the remaining of a billing cycle after users consume 2GB. “They’re still looking to catch up and gain customers,” Day says, and so may keep their unlimited data plans around as a draw for a few more years. Some prepaid brands also promise unlimited data. But before switching, it may be worth gauging the signal quality for that carrier in your area. Consumers who need a fast connection may find it more beneficial to scale back their data usage than to switch carriers, he says.

It may also be worth waiting to hear more details of the data-share plans Verizon and AT&T have in the works – they could prove to be a better deal than unlimited for many consumers, Goldfayn says.  It’s likely to be less expensive to buy one plan for an iPad and an iPhone, for example, than to pay for separate plans for each, he says. Ditto for families with several smartphones. Of course, sharing plans could lure more people to buy expensive smartphones instead of feature phones, and tablets that use a cellular networks as well as WiFi, he says.

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    • They all have the same problem: take a look at the WSJ prlitfabioity, or at least the lack of it. Ask yourself why Murdoch could possibly bid almost trwice the market price. Then have a think about where this ends up. Thomson has sold all of its print products and converted to subscription digitial products, with no apparent web site model. Is it going to be long before the FT etc go that way?

    • Verizon is jerking their customers around and they offer poor customer service. They have bought out other telephone providers and are also making drastic changes to current fees and services, i.e. raising prices!!

    • These scummy carriers charge full price but don’t want to provide full service. Screw them.

    • I will be a customer of Sprint as long as they keep their unlimited data plans with no throttling.

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