SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Verizon Wireless, the nation's largest wireless carrier, is getting rid of its unlimited data plan for new smartphone customers starting Thursday, shifting instead to limited data plans that give users between 2 and 10 gigabytes of data each month.
With the change, Verizon joins the company of fellow carriers AT&T Inc. and T-Mobile USA, which have both set limits to monthly data usage. Sprint Nextel Corp., the country's third-largest carrier, still offers an unlimited plan.
By getting rid of the all-you-can-eat data plans, carriers are trying to move users away from the expectation that they can have as much data as they want for one price and toward paying for what they really use — something that could be increasingly important as carriers invest in the rollout of higher-speed "4G," or fourth-generation, data networks.
"Let's be frank: We are setting the stage for the long term," Verizon Wireless spokeswoman Brenda Raney said Tuesday. "But it is giving customers much more control about how they want to spend their discretionary dollars on wireless."
Later this week, new Verizon Wireless smartphone users will choose between paying $30 for 2 gigabytes, $50 for 5 gigabytes or $80 for 10 gigabytes of monthly data usage. Customers who use more than their allotment will be charged $10 more for each additional gigabyte.
Competitor AT&T charges $25 per month for 2 gigabytes of data, and $45 for 4 gigabytes. The over-allotment fee is the same.
Verizon Wireless' current unlimited plan costs existing users $30 per month. And while it may sound enticing to have unlimited data usage, 95 percent of Verizon Wireless subscribers use less than 2 gigabytes per month.
Verizon Wireless customers who already have an unlimited data plan can keep it, whether or not they have a long-term contract with the company. But existing customers who want to trade up to a smartphone from a standard cell phone — often referred to as a feature phone — won't be able to get the unlimited data plan starting Thursday. A plan for feature phone users that gives them 75 megabytes of data usage per month will cost $10.
AT&T introduced capped data plans a year ago and T-Mobile changed its unlimited data plan in May. T-Mobile doesn't charge overage fees, but it does slow the speed at which customers can send and receive data once they hit their monthly allotment.
Verizon Wireless is a joint venture between New York-based Verizon Communications and Vodafone Group PLC of Britain.