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Confused about Verizon's Family Share plans? You're not alone

Unlike the old plans, every plan now comes with unlimited voice and text messaging for smartphones and feature phones. The way it's structured, the company is offering different amounts of data at different price points. To construct a plan, subscribers will pay a fee for a device, which is as well different depending on what devices are connected to the data plan. And at that time they will select a data plan based on how many gigabytes a month they plan to use across all devices on the plan.

Made-up example of a family of four

Take a made-up example of a family of four. They have 2 tablets, 1 hotspot, 3 smartphones, and a feature phone. In accordance with their existing family plan they subscribe to 2,000 voice minutes, giving each family member 500 minutes per month of talk time. And they have unlimited texting for $30 a month.(With weekend calling and any to any mobile calling, 500 of voice minutes per individual is plenty for many households.)

Under the old plan, all the data for the devices the family used were broken out separately with its own price and its data allotment per month. Tablets could receive 2GB of data for $30 a month. The mobile hotspot got another 2GB of additional usage for $20 a month. And each smartphone was give 2GB of data for $30 a month. In total a family of four with the number of devices I mentioned above would be given 12GB of data per month. In total, this family would spend about $320 a month earlier taxes and fees.

Validas, a company that examines thousands of phone bills to help people find the right service plan for them, says that the averageiPhone user on Verizon consumes about 500MB of data per month and uses 900 minutes of voice calling. If these figures are accurate, Verizon 3G subscribers should be able to live within the limits of these new data plans and they may even be able to scale back their plans to save money.

In my mind, the concern for consumers is actually about where their usage is heading. The more data they use as the network speeds improve, the more they will have to pay for that service.

Keep in mind that the voice texting is limited in accordance with the current plans, nevertheless they will be unlimited as part of the new plans. Yet for someone who is likely talking less and texting less on his phone in lieu of using data services, the unlimited voice and text are services that user will never take full advantage of.

Is there by all means to beat the system if I'm an unlimited data customer so that I don't have to buy a new phone at full price to keep my plan?

In general, Verizon allows clients to upgrade their phones every 21 months or so. Aaron's contract is up in July. If he upgraded his phone then, he'd have to either pay full retail price for a new phone to keep his unlimited data plan or he could take the subsidy and choose one of Verizon's older plans or a new Family Share plan.

But Aaron believes he has found a loophole. Verizon allows people on family plans to in essence swap upgrades. This means that Aaron's mom can upgrade her phone when Aaron's eligibility comes up. So Aaron can upgrade his mom's number with a phone he wants. At that time after he has bought the phone and activated it on the account, he can switch the numbers. Aaron will now have his new 4G phone. And his mother will keep her phone with the new contract date. Aaron will have his mom's contract date. Nevertheless he'll be able to keep his existing unlimited data plan.

The only catch clearly

The only catch clearly, is that Aaron's poor mother may never get to upgrade her phone, since Aaron is always using her tiered account for the upgrade.

Ask Maggie is an advice column that answers readers' wireless and broadband questions. The column now appears twice a week on CNET offering readers a double dosage of Ask Maggie's advice. If you have a question, I'd love to hear from you. Please send me an e-mail at maggie dot reardon at cbs dot com. And please put "Ask Maggie" in the subject header. You can as well follow me on Facebook on my Ask Maggie page.

CNET News reporter since 2004

Marguerite Reardon has been a CNET News reporter since 2004, covering cell phone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate, as so then as the ongoing consolidation of the phone companies.

Check out the latest communications research news on CNET News, featuring the latest on cell phones, mobile gear, VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), and Internet access via broadband and wireless connections.

More information: Cnet
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