Verizon Wireless is phasing out nearly all of its existing phone plans and replacing them with pricing schemes that let families and other subscribers share a monthly data allowance over as many as 10 devices.
The revamped plans, available June 28, are meant to encourage customers to connect their non-phone devices, like tablets and PCs, to the Verizon network. Calls and text messages are unlimited. Subscribers pay for two things: the pool of wireless data they use every month, and the devices they add to the plan. Prices start at $90 for one smartphone with a 1 gigabyte per month minimum amount of data.
Q: Will Verizon convert me to a new plan, or can I keep my old plan?
A: Verizon won't switch you over to the new plan unless you ask. You can keep your old plan, even if you trade up to a new phone after that date and extend your contract. But for new customers, Share Everything will be the only alternative, with a few exceptions, starting June 28.
Q: What type of customer should move to the new plan?
A: If you already have unlimited calling and texting plans, the new plans are likely to save you money, especially if you have a family plan. If you have a tablet, the new pricing scheme could be a good idea too. Even if your tablet doesn't have a cellular modem, you may be able to take advantage of the plan, because it lets you create a "mobile hotspot" with your smartphone, so you can go online with your Wi-Fi-only tablet.
Q: What if I have an "unlimited data" plan? Can I keep it?
A: Yes, you can. But _and there's a big "but" here_ Verizon will no longer let you move the plan to a new phone after June 28, unless you pay the full, unsubsidized price for it. For most smartphones that will add hundreds of dollars to the price. A subsidized Verizon iPhone 4S costs $200. The price you'll pay if you keep your unlimited plan: $650. (Verizon stopped signing up new customers for unlimited a year ago)
Q: I'm a current Verizon customer with a 3G phone, but I need faster data downloads. Do I have to go to a new plan if I upgrade to a 4G phone?
A: No, you can keep your old plan. However, if you have an unlimited data plan, you'll be paying full price for that spiffy new 4G phone, as mentioned above.
Q: I have a phone and tablet, but they're on different carriers. Can this plan work for me?
A: Probably not. The plan encourages you to use only Verizon-compatible devices. But if you have a Verizon smartphone and an AT&T iPad, you could cancel the AT&T service and use the hotspot mode mentioned above. It's just not as convenient has having direct cellular access on the iPad.
Q: I don't need a fancy data plan. I just want a regular phone, with no frills. Are the calling-only plans going away?
A: Almost. There will be only one plan for basic phones. It costs $40 per month and gives you 700 minutes of calling. Texting and data will cost extra. For this type of phone, there are cheaper, no-contract alternatives from many companies.
Q: I'm single and I just want a smartphone, that's it. The cheapest Shared Everything plan looks pretty expensive at $90 per month, and that's with just 1 gigabyte of data. Is there no alternative?
A: There's one cheaper plan, intended for first-time smartphone buyers. It gives you unlimited calling and texting, and just 300 megabytes of data per month. If you're frugal with data usage, that will get you by. It costs $80 per month.
Q: Is this the future? Are all phone plans going to be this way?
A: For its part, AT&T is likely to go in this direction as well. It makes sense for phone companies to meter only the data usage. They can easily provide unlimited texting and calling, but data usage stresses their network. They also want to get as many new, non-phone devices as possible on their networks, and, for customers, shared data plans are cheaper than putting each device on a new plan.
That said, there's likely to be a wide variety of phone plans in the industry.
Q: How do data plans work in other countries?
A: They mostly limit data usage per device, the model Verizon is moving away from. Contract terms are often more flexible overseas, however, and more phones and Internet devices are pay-as-you-go rather than bound by contract.
Q: Does this mean I can drop my home DSL service or cable modem?
A: Maybe, if you're a light Internet user. Adding a data stick or Verizon-connected "hotspot" device to your plan will cost just $20 per month. But home PCs often use a lot of data, especially if you like to watch Internet video. Many households use more than 10 gigabytes per month, the maximum allotment under Verizon's plan. That much data costs $100 per month.
Peter Svensson can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/petersvensson