Time for cell providers to provide family data plans

When I first got a cell phone back in the mid-1990s, I only used it sparingly because the price plans will enormously expensive and the batteries didn’t last very long. Over time, though using a wireless device for voice communications became dramatically cheaper as providers started to offer plans with hundreds or thousands of minutes per month at pretty reasonable rates. Of course the cell companies made up for these price reductions with volumes as all the kids started to get their own phones each with its own cost.

Eventually, the family share plan was born which helped a lot by providing a pool of minutes that were shared by up to five phones with extra lines only costing $10 a month. Of course this did little to stifle the ever growing phone bill as we soon added text messaging which of course the phone companies where happy to bundle into the plans for just a little more per month.

Now of course everyone is migrating to smart phones like the iPhone and the numerous Android devices available. Providers are requiring that every one of these phones have a data plan associated with it which currently cost $30 a month for 5GB of data.  The problem is none of us ever use anywhere close to the full 5 GB on our phones.

Over the summer, AT&T launched tiered data plans that will help a bit for some users and Verizon is expected to launch its own tiered setup later this month. Unfortunately the Verizon plans are expected to be the same $30 for 5 GB and a $15 plan that only gets you 150 MB. Checking our bill, we are averaging about 250-600 MB per month per phone so the overage charges on the $15 plan would make it more expensive than just staying with the existing $30 plan.

Since phone companies are forcing users to get a data plan when they get a smartphone, it’s time for them to provide a little more pricing flexibility too. The shared voice minutes work great so why not offer a shared data plan? If four phones are only using 2.5-3 GB of data, how about offering a 5 GB shared plan for a small premium over the individual price? Perhaps $30 for the first user and $5 for each additional user. That way a family of four would pay $45 instead of $120.

Just as family share plans brought in a large number of new subscribers, this kind of shared data plan could prompt more customers to switch up to smart phones.

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