Remember when Sprint hated the idea of shared data plans? Apparently neither does Sprint.
According to CNET's unnamed sources, Sprint is testing tiered data plans for families, just like the kind it once mocked in a nationwide advertising campaign. The trials are set to launch in San Diego, Las Vegas, and Portland, Ore.
The basic structure is similar to existing shared data plans from AT&T and Verizon. Subscribers would split a single bucket of data among all family members, and pay a $25 per line access charge with unlimited talk and text for each smartphone.
But at least in the trials, Sprint appears to be undercutting its rivals on either price or value. The baseline plan, with a single phone and 1GB of data, would cost $45 per month total. That's $20 per month cheaper that AT&T's comparable contract-based plan, and $5 per month cheaper than a plan with AT&T Next early upgrade service.
Meanwhile, a 20GB plan with four phones would cost just $160 per month. That's because Sprint drops the monthly access charge to $15 per phone with 20GB data plans or larger, and charges just $100 per month for a 20GB bucket. Both AT&T and Verizon charge $160 per month for 10GB plans with early upgrade service.
CNET doesn't say whether these family data plans would allow subscribers to buy a subsidized phone, or would require them to pay the full price in monthly installments. In some test markets, users can upgrade to a new phone once per year as part of the 20GB plan. In other markets, early upgrades are a $5 per month extra charge.
Sprint is also reportedly testing some cheaper "Framily" plans--including one that's $10 cheaper per month--and a cheaper individual plan that starts at $40 per month with 3GB of data, provided you buy the phone at full price or pay it off in monthly installments.
It's not a huge surprise that Sprint is looking to revamp its plans now. The company is largely expected to try and take over T-Mobile, but regulators may frown upon the idea if they think it would stifle competition. While T-Mobile has triggered a price war over the last year with cheap, subsidy-free data plans, Sprint has mostly stood idle and focused on its somewhat-confusing "Framily" plans.
Cheap and straightforward shared data plans could help, but could also backfire as they represent another move away from unlimited data--something that Sprint used to sing from the rooftops about.