Verizon will begin offering unlimited data plans to customers starting Monday.
The largest U.S. wireless provider will let customers keep their current plans or opt for an $80 monthly plan, for a single line, with unlimited data, talking and texting. Customers must agree to AutoPay and paper-free billing. Families can also pay $45 per line for four lines (a total of $180).
The move comes amid growing competition in the wireless space. Verizon had been an unlimited plan holdout as T-Mobile and, to a lesser extent, Sprint have gained ground on Verizon and No. 2 provider AT&T with their unlimited offerings. As customers use their smartphones for more video and photo sharing via social media networks, T-Mobile and Sprint have grown their user base with users who don't want to worry about using more data than their plan allows.
Verizon hopes to stem any further exodus with the offerings. "Verizon is offering something nobody else can: The unlimited plan you want on the wireless network you deserve," said Ronan Dunne, president of Verizon’s wireless division, in a video posted Verizon's website Sunday.
The move by Verizon was "inevitable," said Roger Entner, a telecom analyst with Recon Analytics. He had expected Verizon to begin offering unlimited wireless plans, but the company's announcement comes "a bit earlier than expected. But only by months, not by years. ... They are fighting back hard."
As wireless networks have become better and able to handle more capacity, unlimited data plans make sense, Entner said. The company had said that the cost of delivering a gigabyte of data had dropped 40% to 50% as its network had evolved.
"This forces AT&T also to follow suit," he said. So far, AT&T's unlimited wireless plan is available only to those who subscribe to either of their pay-TV services DirecTV or U-verse.
Verizon last offered unlimited data options to customers in 2012 before killing the plans in favor of tiered data buckets where users share data with other members of their family.
Last year the company made its first move back towards unlimited, introducing a "Safety Mode" where customers who exceeded their mobile data limits would see their data slowed to 2G speeds instead of being automatically billed overage charges for additional gigabytes.
While the competition does still undercut it on price, Verizon's plan delivers high definition video and lets you use your smartphone as a wireless hotspot for up to 10GB of data at no additional charge. T-Mobile and Sprint limit their mobile video streams to a lower resolution, though both carriers allow for users to purchase the ability to stream in HD.
Also last week, Sprint announced a new five-line unlimited data plan for $90. In comparison, T-Mobile charges $70 per month for the first line and $50 for the second. Four lines would cost $160 (each additional line is $20 monthly, up to eight lines).
Under Verizon's plan (more info on verizon.com) five lines would cost $200 each month (not including taxes or other fees). Verizon charges $180 for the four lines, with each additional unlimited line costing $20 up to ten lines. Customers can add a tablet to their plan for $20 monthly and a smartwatch for $5.
Verizon will send through data at full LTE speeds until a customer surpasses 22 GB for the month, then it may prioritize data during busy times to prevent network congestion that could affect other customers.