By Stephen Schenck | July 27, 2012 7:20 PM
Last week, AT&T announced its Mobile Share program, a family smartphone plan that finally allowed users to take their data from a shared pool. This news followed a similar plan Verizon revealed last month, so of course we were quite curious to see how the two stacked-up. Unfortunately, differences in how the providers bill per-device fees make the plans extremely difficult to compare between; there are just so many combinations of devices you might want to use with one of these plans, and the best value is going to depend on just how many smartphones and tablets you plan on using. In an effort to still get a usable comparison made between Verizon and AT&T’s shared data offerings, we decided to create a few theoretical situations, and see which provider comes out on top.
Before we get started actually looking at the plans, it’s worth clarifying that this is largely an academic endeavor. Especially when we’re talking about whole families full of smartphone users, it’s very easy to get locked into one provider or another, and that’s never more true than with carriers like these which run wholly incompatible networks. Unless you’re willing to buy a whole new set of phones and tablets, your devices are going to dictate your carrier options, and that’s often going to mean sticking with the one you’re with.
But, maybe you are ready for a fresh start. There are some great phone options out there from both AT&T and Verizon, and maybe you’re ready to leave that old Froyo handset behind and move on to some of the new hottness. Which provider is going to be the most attractive for your family’s needs?
All the options we’re going to talk about include unlimited voice and text for any phones on the plans, as well as free tethering.
Case 1: The three-smartphone house
Maybe we’re talking about parents with a teenager getting his or her first smartphone, maybe it’s a power couple where one likes to keep separate work and personal phones. They’re not looking to use more than 2GB a month per device, and probably quite a bit less than that. What’s their best option?
Verizon: Three smartphones means $120 in monthly access fees. We could go with either 4GB or 6GB of shared data in our pool; it’s only a $10 a month difference. Assuming we want some wiggle room and elect the 6GB option, we’re looking at a base monthly bill of $200
AT&T: 6GB here will run us $90, and at that tier, three smartphones would accrue $105 in access fees, for a total of $195.
Case 2: The gadget-heads
What about a family that’s really in love with technology? Smartphones for the parents, at least two more for the kids, and let’s put a couple tablets on there, as well. Data needs are going to be substantial, and we’ll want at least 10GB a month.
Verizon: With both carriers, tablets are a great deal to add to a shared plan; they only cost a fraction of the monthly fees that smartphones demand, due to not needing voice access. At Verizon, four phones and two tablets add up to $180 in monthly fees, and it’s another $100 for the 10GB data, for a total of $280.
AT&T: At higher-tier data plans, AT&T’s device fees really start dropping. Here, they all add to just $140. Problem is, AT&T’s data costs start adding up faster than Verizon’s and that same 10GB is $120, negating some of the savings. Ultimately, this family would spend $260 with AT&T.
So far it’s looking like AT&T is just barely beating Verizon. Is Verizon ever the cheaper option?
Case 3: The lone gun
There’s no reason to need a family just to take advantage of a shared data plan, and if you’ve got a number of devices yourself, you may have considered it. Let’s say you have two smartphones (because you’re an addict like us), as well as a tablet. Because it’s just you, we’re probably talking lower data needs than if three separate people were using those devices; maybe you need 4GB a month.
Verizon: Those smartphones and a tablet will run you $90 in access fees. 4GB is $70, for a total of $160.
AT&T: Smaller pools of data means higher device fees at AT&T. The 4GB tier just happens to be the only one where they line-up with Verizon’s rates, so we’re talking another $90 here. The data charges match, as well, leaving us back at $160 a month.
Well, they tied, but we’re still looking for that case where Verizon’s cheaper. What would we have to change?
Case 4: The road warrior
You’re on the go for business all the time, you can’t be expected to rely on whatever WiFi you might happen to find, so you need a fair amount of data – how about 6GB, shared between one smartphone and a tablet?
Verizon: With only two devices, their fees add up to just $50. The data’s another $80, for a $130 monthly bill.
AT&T: Only $45 for your device fees here, and $90 for data makes for a total of $135.
There you go; Verizon by a hair.
In many cases, AT&T’s going to be slightly cheaper than Verizon, but with the difference between the two amounting to such a narrow margin, it still looks like the best advice is to crunch the numbers for yourself. You can find the details of each carrier’s pricing through the links below.