Gartner: Multi-device wireless plans on the way

Data consumption for your smartphone and tablet could soon be merged onto one monthly rate based on data consumption

The days of having to pay for two separate data plans for your smartphone and tablet may soon be at an end, says Gartner analyst Hughes De La Vergne.

Although carriers right now may currently enjoy being able to charge users two different plans for separate devices each month, De La Vergne says that competitive pressures and consumer demands will soon make such plans practically impossible. Instead wireless users will pay for a lump of data every month that they can access through any device they have hooked up to the network.

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De La Vergne says that the expansion of LTE networks and the added bandwidth they provide will make consumers want to be able to access their data everywhere, not just when they're in range of a Wi-Fi hotspot. And since carriers will want their users to remain loyal, they'll try to entice them to keep all their devices locked into the same service agreement by offering them simplified plans that will give them access to their data from whatever device they choose.

"Operators have been hesitant on data plans for multiple devices because of the issues AT&T had with the iPhone," he says. "But with all the additional bandwidth available now, multi-device plans create opportunities for operators to more fully load these under-utilized LTE networks."

One issue that's certain to be sticky for carriers and consumers alike is data caps. De La Vergne doesn't expect caps to be significantly expanded and instead thinks carriers will continue to offer plans in the $50-for-5GB per month plans. At the same time he says that carriers need to do more to educate users about how quickly video applications can chew through their monthly limits. He also wants to see carriers make the overage fees for the multi-device plans "reasonable" so that consumers don't get gouged if they go over their caps on multiple devices.

As for when we can expect to see multi-device data plans rolled out, De La Vergne expects that Verizon will be the first carrier to offer them within the next six months, followed closely thereafter by AT&T and Sprint. Sprint is a particularly interesting case since it has so far been the only wireless carrier that has not placed any data caps on its LTE smartphone plans. However, De La Vergne doesn't see that model holding up when Sprint starts offering multi-device plans since video data traffic from tablets will put significant strain on the network.

"Data revenue is expected to expand to become 65% of total U.S. wireless service revenue as voice declines to 35% in 2016," De La Vergne wrote in his analysis for Gartner released today. "Driving the explosion of mobile data will be the increase in demand for mobile video content, which will drive sales of larger-screen devices."

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