Wireless Carriers Shift Plans to Focus on Data

Verizon Wireless, AT&T and T-Mobile have all announced plans to revamp their wireless plans with more emphasis on 3G data than on voice, an acknowledgement that the wave of the future is data, not voice communications.

The Verizon (NYSE: VZ) rollout comes ahead of its planned 4G launch and is undoubtedly designed to shift to more lucrative data plans than plain old voice. It also is turns out to be a stealth price increase.

Verizon starts off with a new data tier at $9.99 per month with a 25MB cap that includes 3G use, which is cheaper than any rate previously offered, but it’s also a reduction in data per dollar. Right now, Verizon offers a $19.99 per month plan with a 75MB cap. So the data amount goes down two-thirds but the price goes down by half.

Verizon also introduced an Unlimited Talk rate plan for $69.99 a month or $89.99 if you want to include text, photo, and video messaging. Then there’s the Family SharePlan plan for $119.99 which will get you unlimited voice, and a $149.99 version which will include voice as well as unlimited messaging.

Not every 3G phone will be covered, and Verizon Wireless CEO Lowell McAdam told analysts on a conference call this morning that the company plans to reduce the number of phones Verizon carries from 80 to 50.

Not to be outdone, AT&T (NYSE: T) did its own shuffling. It announced that it is dropping the price of the Unlimited Talk plan to $69.99 per month for individuals and $119 for Family Talk customers (two or more lines), matching Verizon’s unlimited offerings.

It will also offer Unlimited Talk & Text plans for its Quick Messaging devices for $89.99 per month for individuals and $149.99 for two lines on a Family Talk plan. It also announced an Unlimited Voice and Data plan for smartphones, including the iPhone, for $99 per month for individuals and $179.99 for a Family Talk plan.

The mandatory data plan remains in place at $29.99 per month.

In addition to that, mobile technology blog Boy Genius Reports says T-Mobile is planning to adjust its monthly service fees to match Verizon and AT&T and is also looking to knock money off the price of a variety of smartphones. These include BlackBerrys, HTC, Motorola and G1 phones. The price cut is expected to be between $30 and $50. T-Mobile, however, has made no such official announcement.

Both Verizon and AT&T’s plans will be effective Monday, January 18.

Andy Patrizio is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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