Verizon Wireless to offer family data plans

Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) will offer family plans for data services, though Verizon Communications CFO Fran Shammo stopped short of providing a launch date for the new plans.

Shammo, who disclosed the news to Reuters as part of the Reuters Global Technology Summit event, said the carrier will introduce the family data plans sometime after it replaces its unlimited smartphone data service with tiered data pricing. He did not provide any further details on the plans.

"I think it's safe to assume that at some point you are going to have mega-plans (for data) and people are going to share that mega-plan based on the number of devices within their family. That's just a logical progression," Shammo said, according to Reuters. Verizon currently allows families to pool voice minutes, but each member of a family must purchase their own bucket of data--and they cannot share that data with other family members. Verizon currently offers unlimited smartphone data for $30 per month.

Shammo announced in January that Verizon Wireless would introduce metered data pricing for smartphones sometime this summer, though he said at the time the carrier was still working out the pricing details for the offering.

Many analysts have predicted that wireless carriers will eventually allow subscribers to share data allotments. "The move makes sense, and could help lessen the blow as tiered-data pricing becomes the norm. For many users this will probably turn out OK, and could even bring a lower monthly bill if the new data bundle turns out to cost less than the combined cost of several per-device plans. Verizon must price these right, or there will be a backlash," wrote ABI Research analyst Neil Strother in response to Verizon's news. "However, I expect a rough patch in the near-term, as users who have grown accustom to 'unlimited' data try to figure out what their data limits really are."

Executives from both AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) and Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) have hinted in the past that their companies are also considering moving to family plans for data. 

Interestingly, Shammo also offered insights into Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) next iPhone, as well as Verizon's prepaid strategy. Shammo said Verizon will offer the next model of the iPhone at the same time as AT&T, and that the Verizon version of the next iPhone will work in the same number of countries as AT&T's version--comments that likely indicate the next version of Apple's iPhone will support both CDMA and GSM networks.

As for an LTE iPhone? Shammo stopped short of making news on the topic, though he did note that, if the next version of the iPhone does not support LTE, it would represent a potential competitive problem for Apple since Verizon plans to offer a range of LTE smartphones this year.

Finally, Shammo touched on Verizon's prepaid gambit. He said the carrier is still testing its "Verizon Unleashed" offering, which provides unlimited prepaid voice, text and data for $50 per month. The offering is currently available in parts of Florida and California, and Shammo said Verizon has not yet made a decision as to whether it will expand the offering nationwide.

"We've always said we're a postpaid company," Shammo said, according to Reuters. "That doesn't mean that prepaid is not important to us."

For more:
- see this ABI post
- see this Reuters article

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