The new arrangement asks consumers to use a single data plan to manage up to 10 devices and to buy service based on 11 different options, each representing a different amount of data usage each month. (See Verizon: One Data Bucket to Rule Them All, Pricing Out Verizon's Shared Data Move. AT&T Joins Verizon in the Shared Data Pool and Verizon Reserves Special Tiers for Big Spenders.)
Behind the scenes, as it manages almost 100 million subscribers on its network, Verizon's Policy and Charging Rules Function (PCRF) must be tied to its billing systems and the data from all the devices on all the plans it manages must be compiled, managed and reconciled to avoid billing mistakes. The cost of making things easier for consumers is that you make things complicated somewhere along the way.
In Verizon's case, it must make sure that, whether its one user with 10 devices or 10 people with one device each, it has the ability to watch each customer's behavior individually, even if it lumps their activity together in a shared bill. (See The SPIT Manifesto.)
And what vendor is Verizon entrusting with this complex policy management? No one, actually. We asked, and a Verizon spokeswoman led us to believe the move to share data plans, and all the complexity it brings, is handled by Verizon.
That was, to us, a revelation given the sheer number of policy management and Service Provider Information Technology (SPIT) vendors and options that have turned up in the past few years.
But shared data plans may be a first step in a much more evolved wireless customer experience.
In its new Long Term Evolution (LTE) network, Verizon is working with Tekelec to provide its PCRF servers, which will help manage network resources and enable new LTE services. (See Operators Dress Up Data Caps .) We've noted before that Tekelec sees its technology as allowing big steps forward in how consumers pay for wireless data. (See Tekelec Touts Diameter Signaling Router Wins.)
In May, Tekelec's Michael Heffner noted that there are at least a dozen ways that operators can vary data charges and restrictions to improve the customer experience. (See Creative, Confounding Wireless Bills .)
Some examples include:
- working with over-the-top content providers to have them subsidize their app in exchange for not counting it against the data cap
- hosting data happy hours in which certain times of day don't count against the cap
- offering the option to turbocharge data speeds -- for a fee -- for video viewing
- exchanging data for ad viewing
- giving subscribers the option of guaranteed quality of service with an extra charge
Verizon CTO Tony Melone has suggested that Verizon's LTE network will one day be contextually aware of its subscribers, using location and other factors to, for instance, provide free Internet access when you shop at partnering retail outlets. (See Context Is King and The Carrier Creep Factor.)
But, obviously, we're in the early days of a grand experiment in using sophisticated networking technologies to simplify how consumers manage their devices. As Verizon's network evolves, so too will its data pricing options.
— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile