What Is An Unlimited Data Plan Worth?
The Trade-offs Versus Data Pooling
Data pooling has been offered by some carriers for a number of years but the erratic usage patterns of data cards and the painful overage rates have led to a limited acceptance in the marketplace. The onslaught of iPhones and Smartphones with more predictable data consumption rates along with smaller overage rate penalties have dramatically shifted the balance. It is no longer a question of whether to pool data devices but whether or not all data devices should be pooled. With the exception of Sprint who utilizes unlimited data as a differentiator from its larger competitors, unlimited data plans are rarely offered except to the largest clients and government entities.
Not long ago unlimited data plans were common place because the carrier bandwidth exceeded the breadth of applications to consume that bandwidth. If you are lucky enough to still have an unlimited data plan contractually available then you can benefit from the savings that will come from transitioning data users back and forth between pooled and unlimited as their usage patterns dictate. However, for most it now becomes a question of leaving behind that grandfathered unlimited plan and moving permanently to data pooling.
So when is it cost-effective to let go of the security of an unlimited plan to benefit from a lower cost pooled data plan? What cost differential is worth paying the price for the potential downstream need for unlimited data on a given device? Is any price worth it when you are trading off quantifiable savings today for a potential need in the future?
There are three primary factors in determining whether to permanently relinquish a grandfathered unlimited data card plan.
The Premium Monthly Cost for Unlimited – The largest factor in deciding to retain an unlimited data card plan is the delta you are paying monthly over a comparable pooled plan option. If the differential in price is relatively small and you have some devices with a history of exceeding 10GB in monthly usage then it makes sense to retain an unlimited plan but only in those limited cases. If the delta in price is large ($10+) then the sound financial decision will be to opt for the monthly savings and let the spikes be managed via buffers you retain in your data pool.
History of Usage for the Devices in Question – It is difficult to make decisions regarding the appropriate plans without the ability to track historical usage. Preferably you would have 12 months of history regarding all data card usage. Sustained usage of 20GB or greater on a data card may indicate that the card is being used for more than business purposes and may require appropriate action to curtail usage rather than pay a premium for an unlimited plan. More justifiable instances for retaining unlimited plans might come in cases where the data card shows intermittent spikes of usage reflective of periodic travel by an employee. If these spikes are sizable although irregular then avoiding overage charges in those months may more than cover a modest monthly premium associated with the unlimited plan versus a comparable pool plan option.
Mix of Data Pool Devices and Available Buffer – The larger the device count in a pool, the more easily it will be to absorb random data card spikes underneath a controlled excess buffer. The greater the percentage in that pool of smartphones versus data cards, the more likely your monthly average usage will be near 2GB/device versus 5GB/device. If you overall average is approaching the upper plan size of 5GB/device you will experience less flexibility to retain sufficient buffer to absorb data usage spikes over time and the more important it might be to retain some unlimited plans on high usage devices.
Because of the new cost-effectiveness of data pooling and group data sharing, now may be the time to finally move away from legacy unlimited data plans.