At Last: Data Plans for Multiple Devices
Rogers Communications, a Canadian cable TV and wireless communications provider, said on Friday that it will allow customers to share existing mobile broadband plans between devices for a $15 monthly fee. This differs from a tethering or hotspot plan because it presents a bill-sharing function: Customers can add a secondary 3G-enabled device without purchasing a separate, more expensive data plan. Two devices, for example, will share the monthly data allotment from a single plan.
The new plans are already live on Rogers' site and seem reasonable when compared to the current, prevalent idea that every device requires its own monthly data plan. For an extra $15, Rogers customers with an eligible smartphone plan can share between 1GB and 5GB of data between the handset and an additional device that has a 3G radio. Owners of 3G USB dongles or notebooks with integrated 3G can share data connection among devices for a $20 monthly fee. The bill share option doesn't provide additional megabytes to use; it simply provides data for a second 3G device without requiring a separate plan. For this reason, some may balk at the monthly fee—or simply add a mobile hotspot device with a data plan.
What's driving the potential for data sharing between devices? "Data sharing is important because tablets will not replace smartphones," Rogers Chief Marketing Officer John Boynton said last week at a conference held to discuss the impact of such secondary devices. Indeed, some are grumbling about the high price of required data plans for 3G tablets such as Samsung's Galaxy Tab.
Although Samsung has reportedly sold 1 million Tabs, nearly all its U.S. sales have demanded new data plans. A subsidized version of the device is sold through carriers that require a monthly data fee. As appealing as I find the Galaxy Tab, I'll simply wait for a Wi-Fi version because I don't want to buy an additional monthly data plan. I don't use up the data allowance I already have on existing plans for a T-Mobile Android (GOOG) smartphone and a Mi-Fi device on Verizon's (VZ) network.
Data Buckets Help a Little
I suspect I'm not alone in paying for more data than I use on more than one device, but recent carrier moves toward offering data buckets can help. In June, for example, AT&T (T) stopped selling unlimited data plans on new contracts, instead giving customers a choice between 200MB or 2GB of data. Verizon and Sprint (S) followed suit after tablets came on the scene: Each offers limited data buckets for the Samsung Galaxy Tab, for example, and Verizon has extended such options to its mobile hotspot product as well.
Ultimately the situation boils down to carriers balancing supply (and the profit motive) against surging consumer demand for data. Research firm Inform predicts that monthly mobile data use will rise 700 percent over the next five years. While recent plan changes by the U.S. carriers are a step in the right direction for all but the heaviest mobile device users, Rogers is setting a better precedent.
If I buy 5GB of data in a given month, I'd like to use it as I see fit on any of my devices—my current iPad (AAPL) or a future Android tablet, perhaps. Maybe my tablet and I should move to Canada? If Rogers really wants me to move north, it should consider not charging an additional fee solely for the convenience of using data on the device of my choosing. Or else add more data for the money.
Also from GigaOM:
What Happens When Data-Friendly Phones Come to Prepaid? (subscription required)