July 18, 2012 -- The nation's two largest carriers are shaking up their data plans to help keep up in a world where more and more people and their families now own multiple smartphones and tablets.
On the heels of Verizon's announcement in late June of its "Share Everything" data plans, which lets customers share a bucket of data across phones and tablets, AT&T has announced today its very own "Mobile Share" plans.
The new offerings, which will be available in late August, will let new and existing AT&T customers buy a single "bucket" of 3G or 4G data, which they can use for web surfing, email, apps, etc., on any device included. The plans will also include unlimited voice minutes and text messages. Before this, customers had to buy specific data plans for each device.
"This is all about connecting Internet devices, connecting them to our network and making it easy," David Christopher, AT&T Mobility's Chief Marketing Officer, told ABC News.
AT&T's plans start at $40 a month. For that you get 1GB of data to share across 10 devices and unlimited voice and texting, but every phone costs $45 a month. Buying 1GB does not give you all that much data, however, and going over the limit on any of the data plans will cost $15 per GB.
The plans go up to 20GB. For that, you pay $200 a month plus $30 for every additional smartphone. To add a tablet to any plan costs $10 a month and $20 for a laptop or netbook.
Verizon's offerings are similar. For 1GB it is $50 a month and then $40 for every smartphone. For 20GB it's $150 and then $40 for every phone.
"Shared data plans are good for families who have multiple data-driven devices and are okay being locked into a specific carrier," says Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. "They don't make sense if most of the devices are already eating into all of their data plans; there won't be any savings because there won't be any data to roll over."
AT&T says that it does not require current customers to switch to the new plans, and unlike Verizon, it will not require customers who are upgrading to a new device to switch to the new plans. Verizon requires current customers who are upgrading to switch to their new "Share Everything" plans. That means that those on Verizon who currently have unlimited data plans will be forced to give them up when they get a new phone on contract from Verizon.
And AT&T knows that's part of its competitive edge with this new set of plans.
"We aren't changing our device upgrade policy, so our customers won't need to switch to a shared plan to get our best device pricing. Customers can keep or buy our existing plans. It's up to the customer," Christopher said.