Reader Forum: “Share with your sister!” – Establishing family and shared data plans

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Editor’s Note: Welcome to our weekly Reader Forum section. In an attempt to broaden our interaction with our readers we have created this forum for those with something meaningful to say to the wireless industry. We want to keep this as open as possible, but maintain some editorial control so as to keep it free of commercials or attacks. Please send along submissions for this section to our editors at: [email protected] or [email protected]
When it comes to family, the motto goes, “What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine.”
This saying is now beginning to ring true when discussing the prospect of shared data plans. With the majority of today’s consumers being billed separately for data, service providers are recognizing that using flat rate pricing is not the most efficient or user-friendly way to monetize data plans. It’s much more convenient for both consumers and providers to build pricing plans according to the users’ needs, especially with the growing trend of having multiple connected devices per person in a household.
This may seem like common sense, but two main challenges arise when trying to implement shared data plans – how can the back-end infrastructure accommodate this change, and how can service providers ensure a positive customer experience? The main barrier service providers face with this is the need to bridge the gap between the network and billing support systems. By bridging this gap, service providers could provide a variety of use cases in relation to shared data.
Bridging this gap is the linchpin to ensure that the customer experience remains consistent. For example, let’s say you’re on a 2 gigabyte iPad plan – traditionally there is a policy in place on the network side that if you go over your allotment you automatically are charged for additional data. However, let’s say you get a text message from your provider offering you an additional 1 gigabyte of data if you respond with a “yes” to their text message. Without network and billing on the same page, a mischarge can occur causing headaches across the board, and when multiple family members are involved, this becomes even messier.
Using a shared plan, families will be able to allocate usage depending on individual members’ usage habits and number of connected devices. Ideally, parents will even be able to control what their children can access at certain points of the day. For example, they could potentially block Sally from signing into Facebook on her iPhone during school hours, yet allow Billy to access the Internet on his iPad during study hall.
These flexible new data plans, which would enable service providers to provide their customers with a greater variety of granular data plans providing more options, will also give carriers the ability to send better notifications to the consumer to flag when they are close to going over their designated data plan in order to avoid bill shock. Depending on the service provider, some plans may even allow unused data to “rollover” to the next month. This way a family can pick the plan that best suits their needs, monitor usage to dodge additional charges, and carry over any unused data – much like AT&T Mobility does now with voice minutes.
The introduction of these shared plans would enable consumers to personalize their data plan while allowing service providers to control network traffic, therefore improving the customer experience. It would be a win-win scenario for both service providers and the customers they serve. It would also repeat a familiar pattern we’ve seen before in the industry: In much the same way as voice evolved from unlimited talk to tiered plans to family plans, we see, data taking the same approach. With shared plans recently hitting Europe, it’s safe to say we should be seeing the same in the United States within months, with more advance plans spanning several lines of business (wireline, wireless, broadband) coming down the line.
To accommodate the growing needs of the average connected family, it is obvious that mobile billing systems need to evolve, and making sure billing and network are on the same wavelength is the first step.
But as your mom would be the first to tell you: Just remember to play nice when you’re sharing with others.

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