Thinking Tech

As mobile data plans shrink, new options appear

As mobile data plans shrink, new options appear

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Verizon's new "Share Everything" plans don't include an unlimited data option. But as the unlimited plan disappears, a few companies are coming up with innovative broadband alternatives.

Yesterday Verizon announced new "Share Everything" wireless plans combining data, voice minutes, and text messages in one shared pool of resources. And for most subscribers, this is a good thing. Group plans provide flexibility and let power users pick up extra capacity when a secondary plan member under-utilizes his or her account. Unfortunately, the new pricing structure doesn't save money for everyone. (All unlimited data plans are gone, for example.) And, as of June 28th, all new customers, and old customers who want to upgrade to a new phone, will have to sign up for a Share Everything account. No ifs, ands, or buts.

Options for unlimited mobile broadband plans are rapidly disappearing, which means it's time to come up with some innovative alternatives. Luckily, several companies are experimenting with new broadband models, and creating new options for mobile access. Take these three examples:

1. Bundled Wi-Fi - Intel recently announced that consumers buying its new Ultrabooks and tablets would automatically gain access to millions of Wi-Fi hotspots provided by Devicescape around the globe. That's not cellular broadband, but it is decent wireless coverage, and it may come at no extra cost. It’s also a move that mimics Wi-Fi access plans being promoted now by fixed-line broadband providers like Comcast. And at least for now, Wi-Fi means no data caps either.

2. Short-Term Broadband - Lenovo's taking a different route with mobile access. The laptop and tablet maker announced just this week that it's now offering no-contract broadband plans. If you can get by on Wi-Fi most of the time, Lenovo will let you buy 3G cellular broadband only when you need it. Users can pick up a "Time Pass" for as little as 30 minutes, or choose a day pass, or monthly plan. There are data caps, but if you only need mobile broadband occasionally, you can avoid hefty regular monthly fees. We may also see sponsored passes in the future with companies paying to provide short-term broadband in exchange for ad space or user information.

3. Caching Services - And then there are the innovative app providers. Media streaming takes up the most bandwidth, but if you cache content locally over Wi-Fi, you can avoid any actual streaming over a mobile broadband connection. My favorite example of this is the Slacker music service, which lets you cache whole radio stations for playing "off air." I use Slacker regularly, and I can get hours of music without eating up any of my mobile data allowance.

There's no perfect replacement for an unlimited mobile data plan, but if I can't have that forever, then I'll happily take whatever alternatives are available. Anything to keep the data flowing.

Image courtesy of Devicescape

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Mari Silbey

Contributing Editor

Mari Silbey is an independent tech writer based in Washington, D.C. With a background in cable and telecom, she's a contributor to several trade publications, and part of the GigaOM analyst network. She also writes for the long-running digital media blog Zatz Not Funny, and has written for both corporate and association clients focused on broadband networks, mobile apps, and video delivery. She's a graduate of Duke University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure