AT&T's Stephenson: Verizon's shared data pricing 'not a surprise'

WASHINGTON--AT&T (NYSE:T) CEO Randall Stephenson said he was not surprised by Verizon Wireless' (NYSE:VZ) shared data plan pricing, and reiterated his belief that the wireless world is trending toward data-only plans.

Speaking at an event here at the Brookings Institution, Stephenson said Verizon's new plans show that carriers are increasingly focusing on data customers. AT&T has said it, too, will launch multi-device data plans, but has not outlined specific pricing, and Stephenson did not do so during his appearance.

"It's not a surprise," Stephenson said when asked about Verizon's pricing. "Think about what the pricing approach that they put in place looks like. The value is in the data and the voice and texting has been commoditized."

Verizon said its new plans, dubbed "Share Everything," will go into effect June 28 for new customers and existing customers who want to switch to them. All of the plans will include unlimited voice and unlimited text, video and picture messaging and a single data allowance for up to 10 Verizon devices. Customers are charged a monthly fee for each device ($40 per smartphone and $10 for tablets, for example) and then pay for a bucket of data to share, starting at $50 for 1 GB and going up from there.

"We've become a mobile data business," Stephenson said. "The networks are designed and engineered to be a mobile data business. And voice and text are just apps on top of that." 

Earlier this month at an investor conference, AT&T CFO John Stephens said that AT&T is "not focused on, per se, family plans, but on connecting the next device," and allowing customers to connect tablets, USB modems and other devices to an existing smartphone data plan for an incrementally higher cost.

Credit Suisse analyst Jonathan Chaplin wrote in a research note that Verizon's new plans are a both defensive and offensive move. "First, Verizon is moving away from pricing voice, text and data separately--they charge a fee of $10-40 / device / month plus data pricing," he wrote. "This eliminates investor concern that voice and text revenues could come under pressure as consumers move to over-the-top solutions like VoIP. Second, the simplified pricing model should encourage device adoption, which should in turn drive up aggregate usage and revenue growth over time."

Ann Hatchell, director of data experience solution marketing at billing and policy firm Amdocs, wrote in a company blog post that Verizon's shared data plans "showcase the value of integrated policy and charging" and that over time the plans will become more sophisticated.

"We're going to see shared plans evolve to become more targeted and personalized to individual users beyond simply sharing a common data volume. Flexibility will be the key," she wrote. "The designated owner of the plan should be able to view data usage by family members as it happens, and make adjustments on the fly (I'll have 5 more gigabytes--or another piece of pie)."

For more:
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see this GigaOM article

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