Shared 4G data plans becoming mainstream

Following in the footsteps of their North American counterparts, mobile network operators (MNOs) around the world are progressively introducing 4G shared data plans.
These plans essentially offer a pooled monthly data allowance, generally offered in different tiers, which can be shared across multiple users and multiple devices.
Another variant involves individual users sharing a data bucket across their multiple devices. Shared data plans are not to be confused with tethering where a user can turn their smartphone into a modem or mobile hotspot enabling access to the internet through other devices such as tablets.
As is the growing trend across 4G service plans generally, shared data plans are often associated with unlimited talk time and messaging allowances. This is the case with SK Telecom’s new ‘T&T Sharing’ plans which include unlimited in-net voice calls in monthly service plans. Under the new plans SK Telecom is allowing the addition of a first device free and it is also lowering the prices on its existing share plans.
Rivals Korea Telecom (KT) and LG U+ have also launched shared data plans, with KT offering the addition of up to nine devices on a shared plan, while LG U+ is allowing two devices. SK Telecom’s original share plan, introduced in January 2013, provided for data sharing across five devices. By way of comparison, in the United States both AT&T and Verizon allow for the addition of up to ten devices in their shared plans. As is characteristic of shared data plans around the world, all three South Korean operators charge a set amount for the addition of individual devices on top of monthly service plan fees.
In Sweden, Telia recently introduced ‘Telia Mobile Share’ allowing the addition of up to 7 devices, with phone additions costing 149 krona ($23) per device while the addition of 4G mobile broadband devices (MBB) costs 29 krona. This differentiation of device add-on costs between smartphones and MBB devices is a practice that AT&T and Verizon have also adopted in the United States. Under AT&T’s plans, the price to add smartphone devices reduces along with higher data capped plans, while Verizon’s smartphone add-on cost is the same across all of its 4G service plans.
While Telia Sweden claims that its March 2013 introduction of shared plans is a European first, other operators in the region have been toying with shared plans for some time. For example, various Orange subsidiaries have been offering shared data plans across multiple devices since 2011 – albeit in the 3G rather than 4G domain.
Shared data plans for 4G are set to expand if MNOs can get the value proposition, device portfolios and service transparency right. With multiple users and devices on a single plan, customers will require more sophisticated usage data and monitoring tools in order to manage and allocate their monthly data allowances. Data usage management tools will be even more necessary, and more complicated, for businesses opting for shared data plans. In addition, MNOs should offer flexible arrangements for subscribers to increase (or decrease) data buckets inside of existing contracts.
Dianne Northfield is vice president of research at Tolaga Research. For more information, visit