Sprint, in response to Verizon and T-Mobile, launches shared data for business customers

Just weeks after Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) and T-Mobile USA announced shared data plans for business customers, Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) threw its hat into the ring and said it too will offer the service. Sprint said that starting today and running through June 13, the carrier will offer shared data plans for small business users. The plans will cover smartphones, tablets and other data gadgets.

The action is notable considering that Sprint has long positioned itself as the carrier with unlimited data service. Sprint has worked to set itself apart from AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless on the topic--both AT&T and Verizon discontinued their unlimited data offerings for smartphones in favor of tiered data. Further, AT&T and Verizon introduced shared data plans to consumers last year.

Sprint's new offering also appears to be a reaction to similar, business-focused shared data offerings from Verizon and T-Mobile. Verizon on Jan. 7 announced it would expand its shared data pricing to business customers. T-Mobile introduced shared data services for business customers starting last year, but recently began promoting the service to its customers to drum up its sales to business users.

Sprint spokeswoman Kristin Wallace said Sprint's new shared data plans for business customers will only be available through Sprint's "Business Direct, Care and Telesales," and are only available to "corporate-liable business subscribers." The plans break down into two main categories:

Sprint's business-focused shared data plans for smartphones range from 20 GB to share with up to 10 lines starting at $139.99 for the first line to 60 GB for 30 lines for $349.99. The plans include unlimited talking and texting. The addition of mobile hotspots or USB dongles cost an extra $20 and tablets cost an extra $10. The first line on the account must be a smartphone. Interestingly, the addition of mobile hotspot functions to customers' phones--whereby a user can broadcast a Wi-Fi network from their smartphone--costs an extra $5 for 1 GB and that data cannot be shared. Overages cost $15 per GB.

Sprint offers a slightly different pricing for customers who are primarily powering tablets. Sprint's tablet prices range from 10 GB for up to five lines for $59.99 for the first line and range to 60 GB for 30 lines for $319.99. Sprint said the first line on these accounts must be a tablet and that only LTE tablets can be activated on the plans.

"Also, I wanted to mention that Sprint remains committed to offering smartphone customers Truly Unlimited data with no throttling, no metering and no overages, all while on the Sprint network," Sprint's Wallace said. "The new Business Advantage Data Share plans will give small business customers additional choices."

Wallace said the carrier's new shared data plans are available in addition to Sprint's existing "Business Advantage Plans." Those plans, which are still available, offer unlimited texting and data and bundles of shared minutes. They range from $29.99 for 200 shared minutes to $189.99 for unlimited texting and data and 4,000 shared minutes.

Sprint's shared data pricing plans are similar to those offered by T-Mobile and Verizon. AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) representatives did not immediately respond to a question about whether the carrier plans to offer shared data plans to its business customers. In January, AT&T said it did not offer shared data to business customers and declined to comment on whether the carrier would do so. However, an AT&T spokesman today said the carrier's Mobile Share plas have been available to its business customers since they first launched last year. He said AT&T's pricing for businesses is the same for consumers with shared data.

Carriers are keen to acquire business users as customers, since business customers typically generate higher revenues than consumers.

For more:
- see details from Sprint

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Article updated March 1 to correct information about Sprint's Business Advantage Plans and to add comment from AT&T.