June 12, 2012 at 7:27 PM ET
The nation's biggest wireless carrier is drastically changing how it charges for data, voice minutes and texts. Such changes generally don't end up putting money in the pockets of consumers, but is everyone going to lose out or will a lucky few actually get more for their money?
The primary change in the new plans is the elimination of metered voice and texts — both are unlimited now, leaving consumers only one real choice to make: how many gigabytes of data they will get per month. But do you really want to pay for an unlimited amount of something we're using less and less of?
Let's see how the new plans would affect key subscribers: households with one smartphone or two, with or without a 3G/4G tablet. (We aren't looking at dumbphones, which will still have a basic voice and text plan, and we're obviously not considering entry-level iPads and other tablets that only run on a Wi-Fi network.)
One phone, today
If you were to sign up at Verizon today, this is a likely combination of features for a smartphone user:
(450 minutes, $40) + (1000 texts, $10) + (2GB data, $30) = $80
The minimum for adding a tablet gives you 2GB of dedicated data for $30, bringing a "with tablet" total to $110 - with limited minutes and text and 2GB of data each for your phone and tablet.
One phone, next month
Come June 28, your choices will be somewhat more limited. If you want more or less the same phone service, you'll have to get:
(Unlimited text and minutes plus 2GB data, $60) + (1 x smartphone, $40) = $100
Adding a tablet is cheap, just $10, bringing that total to the same $110 as before. But while you've added unlimited text and minutes, you've lost 2GB of data. Add it back in for an extra $10 and you're at $120.
It's clear that if you were happy with your limited minutes and texts before, the new plans are not a good deal. If, however, you have been paying for unlimited voice and text, the new plan is slightly cheaper. But either way, you lose data for the money.
Two phones, today
If you and another want to share your minutes, texts, and data, the basic setup would look like this:
(700 shared minutes, $70) + (2 x 1000 texts, $20) + (2 x 2GB data, $60) = $150
It's barely cheaper than having two distinct plans, and if you have unlimited messaging across both lines, it's $160.
As before, adding a tablet and an extra 2GB for it to use would be $30. Grand total would be $180.
Two phones, next month
Shared-type plans will be simplified by simply allowing a subscriber to pay for letting another device into the plan. It will look like:
(Unlimited text and minutes plus 2GB data, $60) + (2 x smartphone, $80) = $140
You lose 2GB of data by switching to the new plan, though to be honest, most people do not use anywhere near their allotted 2GB per month, and many couples could probably easily get by sharing 2GB, or even cut $10 more off the bill by sharing a 1GB plan. $130 vs. $160 isn't bad, especially since it now covers you against any talking or texting over-use.
And if you want to share a tablet on a 2GB plan, you'll pay $150. Bumping up to 4GB costs just $10 more, but unless you know how much data you actually use, don't go there.
Who should sign up?
Individuals who use their texts and data frugally are going to suffer under the new plans, while those with greater needs will benefit. Families with two or more phones plus a device will be able to shave $30 or more off of a bill.
But despite the benefit to two-phone power-user households, the advantage doesn't necessarily increase as you add more phones to the plan. A family of four with heavy data usage and the need for lots of talk time may benefit, but families that use data sparingly and have no need for cellular-connected tablets will be sorely overpaying.
In short, nearly anyone who is living within their wireless means will find that the new plans essentially force an upgrade that is more expensive and not necessary for their purposes.
If you're happy with your plan, you can keep it as long as you don't make any changes or buy one of the subsidized phones on offer. But the next time a hot Android phone or iPhone comes out, you will have to make the jump (or go through the hassle of purchasing an unlocked phone). Changing over to one won't be the end of the world, and some may benefit by cutting back on data allowances, or adding a tablet to their plan. But many users will find themselves paying more for the same thing.
Still have some questions about the new plans? Check out our Q&A from earlier.
Devin Coldewey is acontributing writer for msnbc.com. His personal website iscoldewey.cc.