Verizon vs. AT&T: The Battle of the Family Data Plans

by Matt Klassen on July 19, 2012

Yesterday AT&T followed its larger rival Verizon into the fray of family data bundles, unveiling its MobileShare plan that will be available sometime in late August. Like Big Red’s ‘Share Everything’, AT&T’s plan is part of a growing market push to get more people to share their data allotments with family members or friends, now that similar talk and text family bundles are increasingly becoming obsolete.

I’ve written at length regarding the value of Verizon’s family data plan, and AT&T’s is really no different. The value in such data bundles only comes at the higher end of sharing, meaning that the more people you have under one plan (who each only use a moderate amount of data per month) the more you save. For individuals looking to save money, however, such plans offer little help.

By and large both plans are fairly similar, offering buckets of data, as it were, at most of the same standard price points. There are some subtle differences between them, however, meaning if you’re interested in finding an affordable family data plan, a little investigation is required.

As it stands, voice and text offer carriers little in the way of revenue these days, the real mobile money currently found in data usage. The problem for carriers is that many people, particularly demographics who traditionally lag behind in technology adoption, are just getting used to talk and text on a mobile device, and thus are not providing carriers with their full revenue potential.

So enter the family data plan, a strategy carriers are adopting in hopes of getting more people (i.e. you, your parents, your grandparents, etc…) using data and purchasing additional mobile devices (i.e. tablets), offering mobile customers the best price breaks at the highest ends of the shared plans.

But as we look at what Verizon and AT&T it terms of price per gigabyte of data, it turns that neither is a clear cut winner in terms of value, meaning that the actual savings to you depends solely on the size of the family signed onto the plan (Click here for a comparison graph of the two plans)

Regardless of the company, the plans themselves are quite complicated, but the general strategy behind the advent of the family data plan is, as I mentioned, offering a lower price per gigabyte the more data one purchases.

As it stands, individuals might be considering a shared plan who use a small amount of data will initially save with AT&T ($40 for 1GB plus $45 smartphone fee), but once a second person (or second device) is added, all value is lost, as Verizon’s monthly device fee is lower than AT&T’s. Confused yet?

For couples it seems that the comparison is a wash, as both AT&T and Verizon offer the same price for a mid-range 4GB plan ($70 plus $40 smartphone fee), although Verizon offers a less attractive 2GB option for $60 that AT&T skips altogether.

In the 10GB range, Verizon holds the value edge if an individual was buying into the plan to use multiple devices, but with multiple users on the same account the price again is a wash. It should be noted, however, that AT&T would offer some increased savings if there were several people on the same plan at this level, that’s because AT&T’s smartphone fee actually goes down the higher up the data tiers you go, while Verizon’s holds firm at $40 throughout.

Both companies offer larger capacity plans for families that are really into data, with AT&T advertising its 15GB and 20GB plans against Verizon’s more versatile 16GB, 18GB, and 20GB plans. If you know exactly how much data you consume in a month, Verizon does offer a slightly better value here, although again AT&T does offer a significantly lower smartphone fee at this top end, meaning in the end you’d need to be a mathematician to find out who wins.

But as I’ve said before, in my mind these family data plans give you lots of what you don’t need, and very little of what you do.

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