Verizon: ‘Unlimited’ Party Ends July 7; Can Sprint Benefit?

So it took a few months longer than we originally predicted but the inevitable news was confirmed today — no more “unlimited” data plans for new Verizon customers, starting July 7. One question that immediately pops to mind is: Will Sprint be able to use the virtually unlimited bandwidth on its Clearwire-powered WiMAX network to keep its true unlimited plans and convert high-dollar business subscribers who might be disappointed with Verizon’s decision?

Confusingly to customers who may not spend all their time on Twitter or industry-news blogs, Verizon has yet to issue a press release explaining all the changes, and why certain data plans may make more sense for some customers and not others. Presumably there will be some big media splash and a highly designed website that goes live Thursday explaining all the permutations in great detail but the bottom line is an easy one: If you want to use the new high-speed data networks from Verizon (and eventually AT&T) get ready to pay, heavily.

For example, under the new plans a Verizon 4G LTE phone with mobile hotspot capability will now run you $80 a month for 10 GB of phone data, plus another $20 per month for 2 GB via the hotspot feature, above and beyond the device cost AND a voice plan. Here Verizon is making a big bucket of bits available to the device least able to use them effectively — the phone — and telling people who want to use their phone as a hotspot to pay through the nose.

The question here at Sidecut Central is what Sprint plans to do about all this — so far this year the WiMAX network that everyone else seems ready to kill somehow keeps getting new phones and devices for it, including the HTC EVO 3D and the HTC tablet. Motorola has plans now to offer a 4G WiMAX phone of its own and a WiMAX version of the Xoom tablet (which might end up beating Verizon’s delayed LTE capability for the Xoom, which is mired in “we-aren’t-talking-about-it” land whenever we ask Verzion PR for an update). Will Sprint keep its truly unlimited 4G plans or will it switch to some tiered version of data plans of its own? A good business question, about which one might bring more profit. What’s the answer, Dan?

If Sprint follows Verizon and AT&T the consumer groups might stomp their feet and protest but it is going to do no good: Pay-per-bit is here to stay in the U.S., and with fewer national competitors (once AT&T swallows T-Mobile) there will be little reason for prices to ratchet downward. The big confusion arising from the implementation of pay-per-bit plans, I believe, will be educating users to start understanding the parameters of data downloads — or what really happens when you jump over to YouTube with your phone. For many years now, phone companies have been shoving “unlimited” advertising down consumers’ throats; now let’s see how well “you gotta pay for that video” is going to go over.

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