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Shared Data Plans Will Have Significant Impact

As the major U.S. carriers get closer to unleashing shared data plans for mobile devices, it’s worth noting how this change in offering will likely impact both the private and corporate sides of the mobile client world. Smartphones and tablets have already been profoundly disruptive in a number of ways, and new multidevice data plans will only magnify the effect.

Along with various announcements by U.S. carrier execs in 2011 on this year’s long-anticipated arrival of shared data plans, a fair amount of hope and speculation on what these plans might amount to has also been afoot. Will my department be able to get a single pool of data that our iPhones and Android tablets alike can all draw from? How about a single contract that covers all of the smart devices that my family uses? And wouldn’t rollover data be sweet--if I don’t use the device all this month, it adds to next month’s plan? Details on what is actually coming from each carrier are scant, but we can hope for a good range of options.

To get a sense of what shared plans in the United States might eventually feel like, we can look at Canadian provider Rogers Wireless and its Data Share Plan ( With Rogers, as many as five devices can access a shared data allotment with a variety of monthly pricing tiers available. It is interesting to picture similar offerings in the colors of American carriers.

From the personal device angle, I’m all in favor of family plans. I’d love to replace the non-smart "feature phones" that my kids currently have. Because I can’t/won’t spring for multiple pricey data plans, three bright and social teens are relegated to the world of non-smartphones. Will a "big" plan for multiple devices be any cheaper than several individual plans? We’ll see. My dream plan would also come with control mechanisms sophisticated enough to allow good parental control over the youngsters’ mobile connectivity (at no additional fee, of course) while restricting nothing for the older members using the plan.

Contemplating the corporate mobile realm, it’s harder to know if the impact from shared data plans will be direct or indirect. Though shared data plans would also help sell more smart devices to businesses, it remains to be seen whether such plans will be offered to corporate customers. But even if shared plans are relegated to the consumer space, their impact on enterprises will certainly still be felt.

Anything that fuels the mobile device explosion has ripple effects on the corporate WLAN. The increase in clients seeking Wi-Fi offload will bear on WLAN design and support, as wireless worlds continue to collide wherever smart devices pop up. And if the WLAN admin has to worry about the added devices, so does the enterprise security team because the "D" in BYOD is proving to mean drama, dilemma, disaster and a number of other unpleasant descriptors as we all get used to the new paradigms of highly mobile personal devices being hosts on the corporate network.

Cable TV and business telephony systems are feeling the impact of smart device popularity. Sales of laptops and specialty devices like GPS units are already losing ground to smartphones and tablets, and this effect will only get more pronounced with the advent of shared data plans and more sophisticated mobile platforms. (I know I’m not the only one who pitched my automotive GPS when my Droid came to town.) Technical evolution is always a game of winners and losers, and while some device markets fall off, the world of paid applications and smartphone accessories will be further ignited by pooled data plans that put more devices into more hands.

Finally, shared data plans and added users on those plans will hasten and amplify many of the societal changes that an always-on, Internet-portal-in-your-pocket brings. In countless ways, we all actually get a bit smarter with these gadgets on hand. And ruder. And more resourceful. And less attentive. And more productive. And less engaged. The dichotomies are many, and are simply becoming a way of life for those who have smart devices.

For those who haven’t been able to ride the mobile smart device wave for financial reasons, the pending arrival of shared data plans should end up getting more clients into our very, very connected world, for better and worse. How it all shakes out remains to be seen, but the mobile network carriers have a chance to deliver yet another disruptive blow to the networked world. Let’s see what they do with it.