U.S. Cellular launches shared data plans, weeks later than expected

U.S. Cellular (NYSE:USM) launched its own shared data plans, weeks later than expected, and as had been rumored beforehand, the plans largely conform to the share data offerings of larger carriers such as Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) and AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T).

All of the U.S. Cellular's "Shared Data" plans offer unlimited voice and text messaging, just as the plans from the larger carriers do. U.S. Cellular will employ a per-device charge per month, as Verizon and AT&T do, starting at $40 per smartphone, $30 per feature phone, $10 per tablet, $20 per mobile hotspot, and $20 per wireless device such as a USB modem. Details of the plans leaked to the blog Engadget in August.

Individual customers can share data with up to 10 devices and business customers can share with up to 25. Data prices start at 300 MB for $40 per month (which is more expensive than a similar offering from AT&T, which charges $20 per month for 300 MB). U.S. Cellular's pricing goes up from there, starting at 1 GB for $50 per month, 2 GB for $60, 4 GB for $70 and so on.

U.S. Cellular is also offering data-only Shared Data plans for tablets, hotspots and modems that start at $10 per month for 1 GB of data, and the same monthly device connection charges as above apply. For customers with basic phones, U.S. Cellular said it will also offer "Talk and Text Only Plans" that include 450 minutes and unlimited messaging for individuals for $50 and 1,000 minutes and unlimited messaging for families at $100 for two lines and $20 for each additional line.

The Shared Data plans also come with varying amounts of "Reward Points," which let customers earn points toward faster phone upgrades, accessories and other benefits.

Verizon and AT&T launched their shared data plans in the summer of 2012 and regional player C Spire Wireless launched similar offerings last fall. AT&T just introduced a policy that will require all new customers to sign up for its Mobile Share shared data plans starting Oct. 25. Sprint (NYSE:S) and T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) do not currently offer shared data plans for individual customers but do for enterprise customers.

U.S. Cellular executives had initially said the carrier would launch shared data plans in September, a deadline that came and went. "Our timing for Shared Data shifted and we are happy to have it in the market at this time," U.S. Cellular spokeswoman Katie Frey told FierceWireless.

However, the carrier has recently been working with billing vendor Amdocs to fix problems in its new billing system. The acknowledgement from the carrier came shortly after the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that many U.S. Cellular customers were angry over receiving multiple bills in a short time with inaccurate balances or overcharges. U.S. Cellular first acknowledged the billing system snafu in late July, but at that time said the issue had been resolved.

It's also unclear when U.S. Cellular plans to launch Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone, which it has pledged to do by year-end. Frey did not provide a date for when U.S. Cellular would launch the iPhone.

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