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Summary:

Does every 3G data device need it’s own data plan? U.S. carriers would likely say yes, but Rogers, a Canadian operator, says maybe not. Thanks to secondary devices, such as tablets, the provider has introduced a bill sharing option: one data plan for multiple devices.

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Rogers Communications, a Canadian cable television and wireless communications provider, said on Friday it will allow customers to share existing mobile broadband plans between devices for a $15 monthly fee. This differs from a tethering or hotspot plan because it’s actually a bill-sharing function: customers can add a secondary 3G-enabled device without purchasing a separate and more expensive full data plan for it. Two devices, for example, would share the monthly data allotment from a single plan.

The new plans are already live on Rogers’ site and seem reasonable when compared to the current and prevalent idea that every device requires its own monthly data plan. For an extra $15, Rogers customers with an eligible smartphone plan can share between 1 GB and 5GB of data among the handset and another device that has a 3G radio. Owners of 3G USB dongles or notebooks with integrated 3G can share their data connection among devices for a $20 monthly fee. The bill share option doesn’t provide any additional megabytes to use; it simply provides data for another 3G device without requiring a separate plan. Some may balk at the monthly fee — or just add a mobile hotspot device with data plan — for this reason.

What’s driving the potential for data sharing between devices? “Data sharing is important because tablets will not replace smartphones,” Rogers Chief Marketing Officer John Boynton said at a conference, held last week to discuss the impact of such secondary devices. Indeed, some are grumbling about the high price of required data plans for 3G tablets, such as Samsung’s Galaxy Tab.

Although Samsung has reportedly sold 1 million Tabs, nearly all of the U.S. sales have resulted in new data plans. A subsidized version of the device is sold through carriers who require a monthly data fee. As appealing as the Galaxy Tab is to me personally, I’ll simply wait for a Wi-Fi version because I don’t want another monthly data plan. I don’t use up the data allowance I have today on my two existing plans for a T-Mobile Android smartphone and a MiFi device on Verizon’s network.

I suspect I’m not alone in paying for more data than I use on more than one device, but one aspect that has helped are recent moves towards the offering of data buckets. In June, for example, AT&T stopped selling unlimited data plans on new contracts, instead giving customers a choice between 200 MB or 2 GB of data. Verizon and Sprint followed suit after tablets arrived: each offers limited data buckets for the Samsung Galaxy Tab, for example, and Verizon has extended such options to its mobile hotspot product as well.

Ultimately, the situation boils down to carriers balancing supply and profits against the massively increasing consumer demand for data: research firm Inform predicts monthly mobile data use to rise 700 percent over the next five years. While the recent plan changes by the U.S. carriers are a step in the right direction for all but the heaviest of mobile device users, Rogers is setting an even better precedent.

If I buy 5 GB of data in a given month, I’d like to use it as I see fit on any of my devices: my current iPad or a future Android tablet, perhaps. Maybe my tablet and I should move to Canada? Of course, if Rogers really wants me to move up north, they should consider not charging an additional fee soley for the convenience of using data on the device of my choosing. Either that, or add more data for the money!

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

  1. so they are charging an “additional fee” just to use an extra device on your plan, but not actually giving you any more data?

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    1. Unfortunately, yes – you receive no additional data. That’s a bit of a let down, but for folks that pay for 5 GB of data and just use 1 or 2 GB, it lets them share the remaining data on a second device. Not ideal for everyone – if I was a very heavy data user and ate up the 5 GB each month, it would make more sense to just get another data plan.

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  2. There’s a larger, far more unwieldy, issue at hand – sloppy apps not making efficient use of data for these new caps.

    Excluding carrier installed apps ( which may or may not be “defective by design” and needlessly pinging home server, chewing up data *ahem* ) too few apps are using Pubsubhubbub, and constantly throwing packets back and forth for no reason.

    This is going to be an rancorous issue soon.

    An example of a good app, one that was build with data caps in mind, from the start, is Feed Me

    http://www.androlib.com/android.application.net-xpdeveloper-feed2phone-android-qCEFj.aspx

    But of course, the carriers won’t take the initiative here, cheer for apps like Feed Me, possibly give apps that behave well a special stamp of approval…Why? Because the carriers want you to go over your cap, get’m a nice fat, pure profit overage fee.

    Epic class action law suit in 3…2…1…

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    1. Todd, I totally agree with you and wrote a thought piece on that very topic (and offered a list of strategies to help devs in this area) on our GigaOm Pro site, which requires a subscription: http://pro.gigaom.com/2010/10/app-developers-are-you-ready-for-html5-and-metered-data/

      Here’s a short excerpt:

      As apps continue to gain popularity, developers will need to be more mindful of how much data their apps consume, and I wonder what impact of the HTML5 web standard will have on data consumption in the long-term. More importantly, as apps eat up more data due to additional functionality, how will developers contend with the inevitable tiered mobile broadband pricing?

      Optimization of mobile data in apps isn’t a new problem, but I expect that it will face greater scrutiny from app developers and consumers as we move towards tiered pricing models for data, and, as my colleague Stacey Higginbothem discussed earlier this year, the finite amount of wireless spectrum is gobbled up by data-hungry apps.

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  3. [...] so-called data share costs $15 per month on top of existing mobile broadband plans. Subscribers can then share up to 5 [...]

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  4. Great concept indeed, and it already exists – it’s called the Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200!!! $40 bucks for unlimited 3G that I can use with my notebook, netbook and smartphone.

    Cheekiness aside, I can appreciate the logic behind this approach, and would be great to use with a smartphone that has hotspot capability. But if combining devices on data plans together is to be successful, shouldn’t the carriers instead focus on offering unlimited caps??? More devices DO use more data, carriers WILL NEED to cater to heavy users to win their dollar, and as tablet/smartphone/netbook/notebook sales continue to increase, carriers will have no choice but to boost their networks to cope with the surge in data traffic.

    Unlimited data plans do have a space in today’s market, and there is a strong demand for it. If Virgin Mobile can do it on 3G and Clearwire do it on 4G, there’s no excuse for other carriers NOT to follow!

    BTW: did you guys just retire the jkontherun.com domain over the weekend? Blank page.

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  5. It’s like a family plan for data where you can use multiple devices at the same time and in disparate locations. I like the concept but I don’t like the additional fee. I also don’t like the tethering fees also. If I am paying for data, why should they care how I use it and on what device or devices I use it on. I can’t see these additional monthly fees being sustainable so they will eventually go away but the carriers will try to keep them for as long as possible.

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  6. Rogers actually doing something smart? This is a true revelation.

    Wonder how long it will take before they screw this up…

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  7. This would seem to suggest that the Plan is only available to those with 1 GB+ service. I have a 500 MB service on my Blackberry and thanks to RIM compression and the frankly dreadful browser experience of OS5, I get nowhere near using that mount of data monthly. I could see using that remaining data on another device – say, a more data-thirsty tablet – but charging even an additional $15 / month for the ‘right’ (having just blown between $550 – 675 for the device under a Plan)to access data I’ve already paid for is pretty galling. Turk and Kevin’s reply touch on this.

    But it costs pennies for Rogers to maintain how / where my data is used (done by computer and not by some poor Marley stuck in a dark and drafty office manually counting our data use) and they’ve already got us by the short and curlies with locked devices, SIM cards and long-term, pricey contracts to the original data plan devices.

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  8. Everyone should do this. Make it a flat fee and allow data access on one device at a time.

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  9. [...] global mobile services at Orange. In a plan that’s more highly tailored than that of Rogers, which Kevin covered earlier this week, Orange works with subscribers in Austria to provide multiple SIM cards for multiple devices, such [...]

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