Verizon: Unlimited data plans are an endangered species

Take a good look at your unlimited data plan, Verizon Wireless subscribers. Because if the wireless provider has anything to say about it, you’ll be giving up your unlimited data as early as this summer.

That’s the plan outlined by Verizon chief financial officer Fran Shammo, at any rate, during a Wednesday presentation at the J.P. Morgan Technology Media and Telecom conference in Boston. Verizon wants more of its subscribers to opt for shared data plans which cover multiple devices like smartphones and tablets. To convince subscribers who’ve clung to their unlimited data plans to move to this new setup, Verizon is taking much of the choice out of the decision process: If you want to upgrade to a new 4G-compatible phone, you’re going to have to give up that unlimited data.

“LTE is our anchor point for data share,” Shammo said Wednesday. So as you come through an upgrade cycle and you upgrade in the future, you will have to go onto the data share plan. And moving away from, if you will, the unlimited world and moving everybody into a tiered structure data share-type plan.”

Verizon stopped offering unlimited data plans to new subscribers last July, following the lead of rival AT&T. But users who originally signed up for an unlimited data plan with the carrier were grandfathered in—and they’re also now the ones Verizon is eager to switch over to a tiered pricing structure.

“A lot of our 3G base is unlimited,” Shammo said. “As they start to migrate into 4G, they will have to come off of unlimited and go into the data share plan.” [You can watch a Webcast of Shammo’s remarks or download the transcript of his presentation at Verizon’s investor relations site.]

Such a move would seemingly impact Android users immediately—there are already several 4G Android phones offered on Verizon’s network. The expected arrival of a new iPhone later this year could lead to iOS users having to give up their unlimited data plans in order to upgrade to a new model—assuming, of course, that such a phone would be compatible with Verizon’s faster network.

Verizon has a very simple motivation for wanting its subscribers to jump to shared data plans—money. As noted by JPMorgan analyst Phil Cusick during Shammo’s presentation, subscriber growth is slowing down for the wireless industry. To keep up revenue, carriers want their subscribers to consume more data—and pay for that privilege. Verizon is betting that shared data plans and faster network speeds will push subscribers to upgrade their data package.

it’s not exactly clear when Verizon will put this plan into effect. Last month, the carrier indicated it planned to launch shared data plans by “midsummer”, and Shammo reiterated that timeframe on Wednesday. However, Shammo also described the shared data model as “paper, not actual,” meaning nothing’s in place just yet. A Verizon spokesperson we contacted declined to go into specifics about when the company will launch shared data plans—and when the days of the remaining unlimited data plans truly become numbered.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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