Verizon Wireless today debuted two shared data plans for business customers -- the first of their kind in the industry.
The two new shared data plans include one for small businesses, with up to 25 lines of shared data, and one aimed at large businesses of any size, with no limit on the number of devices.
Verizon first introduced its Share Everything data plan, primarily for consumers, last June, and has called it a success. Under that plan, families and groups share a pool of data for up to 10 smartphones, tablets and other devices under a single account, paying an added monthly fee for each device.
Analysts predicted the new business-oriented plans will be very popular with customers who have been asking for pools of data to share among workers for years.
"Companies have been doing shared voice minutes for a very long time because it allows them to even out the usage across those that use a lot and those that use a little," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates. "This [Verizon plan] is finally extending the same capability with data to what companies have been used to having with voice. Frankly, I'm surprised it has taken this long to get to this point."
Both Gold and Phillip Redman, an analyst at Gartner, said that having shared data will be a major step forward in helping firms manage expenses and reduce costs. "This [shared data] is growing with importance as more companies support tablets," Redman said.
Some very large companies already use shared data pools under custom deals with Verizon. Now, that option will be available to all companies. Gold predicted that other carriers will likely follow Verizon's lead.
Verizon explained the two plans in a blog by Paul Macchia, public relations manager for small and medium-sized business at Verizon.
With the Share Everything Plan for Small Business, companies can share up to 25 lines of unlimited minutes, texts, picture and video messages with a shareable data allowance. Three data packages are available: 30GB for $225 a month, 40GB for $300 a month, and 50GB for $375 monthly.
The additional monthly device access charge would be the same as for the original Share Everything plan for consumers. That means a smartphone would cost $40 a month, while a tablet would cost $10 a month. More details are available on the Verizon Web site.
For large companies needing more than 25 lines, Verizon is initiating new Nationwide for Business Data Packages and Plans that are compatible with existing nationwide business talk and talk-and-text sharing plans. Larger businesses will be able to buy the new data-sharing plan without already having a talk or text plan, however, Macchia said in an interview.
The Verizon Web site describes the large business data sharing costs as $20 a month for 300MB; $30 for 2GB; $50 for 5GB; and $80 for 10GB shared over all lines on the nationwide plan. For this plan, there is no separate device charge per month.
Businesses seeking more than 10GB to share will need to speak to Verizon to arrange a customized plan, Macchia said.
Verizon for years has arranged customized data sharing for very large business, he said.
Many businesses with hundreds of workers will probably want far more than 10GB a month to share, Macchia conceded. But the new Nationwide for Business Data package attempts to meet the needs of businesses that have more than 25 lines, but are still small enough that they haven't yet set up a customized plan.
The data overage charge is $15 per 1GB shared for all the lines on an account under the new nationwide plan.
Verizon knew that business customers wanted shared data plans, and Macchia predicted they will become popular.
"Regarding why we didn't do this sooner, we carefully evaluate programs and listen to customers and do our research," he said. "And that's how we finally decided to move forward first with Share Everything, which has been great for consumers and now it makes sense for business."
Small and medium-sized businesses who will be served the most by these new plans are "very cost conscious," he said.
As for whether other carriers will follow Verizon's lead, just as AT&T did with a shared data plan announced last summer, Macchia said: "It's always nice to be emulated."
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is email@example.com.