AT&T and Verizon Share the Data Load

It was really only a matter of time before AT&T (NYSE: T  ) jumped into the shared data pool with Verizon (NYSE: VZ  ) .

A month after Verizon Wireless announced that it would be introducing buckets of data to be shared across several devices in a single account, AT&T is out with its version of its rival's Share Everything pricing.

Why are the country's two largest wireless carriers doing this? Do you really have to ask? It's not about saving consumers money. Even Verizon's CEO admitted last month that this will mean more money for Verizon.

The goal is certainly noble. Consumers who may be fearful of springing for a 4G iPad or investing in a mobile hot spot may now find it more cost effective to do exactly that.

As someone who has been very critical of AT&T's recent moves, I have to applaud the company's decision to continue to offer individual and family plans to both current and new customers. Letting consumers work the math to find if switching to a shared data plan is cost efficient is surprisingly customer-friendly.

The days of unlimited data plans are certainly over at AT&T and Verizon, especially as longtime customers switch to speedier 4G devices. This gives distant bronze medalist Sprint (NYSE: S  ) some wiggle room as it continues to market its unlimited data pricing, though it may be tempted to join the fray of shared data if it's what the public ultimately wants.

The pricing for what it's calling AT&T Mobile Share will take some getting used to for investors who are conditioned to straightforward plans. Monthly data usage will cost as little as $40 for a gigabyte of data to $200 for 20 gigs. Unlimited talk and text are included, but customers will have to pay monthly fees on top of that for every device that they have slurping data on the plan. Smartphones will cost between $30 and $45 apiece. Feature phones are $30. Laptops and connectivity cards are $20. Tablets and gaming devices round out the device list at $10.

The good news for AT&T customers is that tethering is included in the smartphone pricing, though obviously owners will have to be careful about the data that they are consuming when they turn their handsets into mobile hot spots.

Every single wireless customer will need to work the math to see which of AT&T's plans is the best fit, but there's time for that. AT&T Mobile Share won't kick in as an option until later next month.

Investors won't need to wait that long. This move will help boost revenue at AT&T regardless of what consumers in concert decide.

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz calls them as he sees them. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.

The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

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