Finally — Finally — we have the final piece of the puzzle when it comes to Verizon’s Long Term Evolution (LTE) smartphone strategy, namely the price of the LTE data plan. After dropping $249 on the HTC Thunderbolt device itself and signing up for a 2-year contract your data plan from Verizon is $29.99 a month for unlimited data downloads, a plan that Verizon says covers connections via both the 4G LTE network or the company’s 3G network when a 4G connection isn’t available.
With the mandatory nationwide voice contract (the lowest is a $39.99 plan for 450 minutes) that means it will take approximately $320 out of your wallet to get connected to what is arguably the quickest and certainly the least-used mobile broadband network in the country for now. While that price may be a bit steep for some, Verizon is offering a bit of a sweetener for those who move quickly, throwing in the mobile hotspot capability embedded in the Thunderbolt for free until May 15. After that date, all Thunderbolt customers old and new will pay an additional $20 for each 2 GB of data that they use via the hotspot function.
Our quick take on this pricing breakdown is that Verizon doesn’t see itself getting snowed under from users connecting to its LTE network via the handsets themselves, but it is protecting itself from the potentially huge data downloads that could come by using the phone as a mobile hotspot, since it can connect to up to eight additional devices. For right now, Verizon is holding still on its 4G LTE USB modem data plan pricing, charging $50 for 5 GB per month and $80 for 10 GB per month of data downloads; prices on the devices, however, have fallen to $69.99 with an online discount. Potential customers however might do well to peruse the reviews on the Verizon website and ask your local salesperson politely if the connection problems for the modems are being fixed.
While the 4G LTE data plan for the Thunderbolt may not be revolutionary, it certainly offers heads-up competition to Sprint’s unlimited 4G data plans for its WiMAX-based smartphones and mobile hotspot devices. At the very least we should have some fun debate about the term unlimited at the wireless CEO panel at next week’s big CTIA show in Orlando. If unlimited is the new table stakes for 4G, the real winners already are the potential customers of the faster data networks.