Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg  (Source:
Verizon CEO thinks Sprint and T-Mobile should consolidate

Until now, most of the talk surrounding tiered data plans has involved setting limits on how much data a mobile user consumed. In Wall Street Journal interview, Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg hints that his company, the nation's largest wireless carrier, might take a different factor into account when setting data pricing -- speed.

Seidenberg said that this type of tiered structure would become possible once the carrier's 4G LTE network is deployed, but that the company is still experimenting with possibilities and hasn't developed anything concrete. 

Verizon CFO Fran Shammo likened possible plans to ones offered by home internet services, considering LTE can deliver speeds from 1 Mb to 12 Mb per second. "If you want to pay for less speed, you'll pay for less speed and consume more, or you can pay for high speed and consume less," Shammo told WSJ.

Verizon is expected to announce a number of 4G devices at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, with a first device available in February. There are somewhere around six 4G devices known to be coming to Verizon in the first half of 2011, including one from LG and an Android-based model from HTC that is strikingly similar to Sprint's EVO 4G. Seidenberg told WSJ that there would be more 4G devices on the market than originally expected, thanks to a push within the organization to develop new products.

Three quarters of Verizon's customers are expected to be data users within the next three or four years, Seidenberg said, compared to less than one quarter today. But he wouldn't outright proclaim the death of unlimited data (the way AT&T has). "I don't think the world's that simple," he said. "We need to get into it, figure out what the customer thinks is fair, and go from there."

Verizon has already begun offering a version of tiered data plans to its customers, with a $14.99-per-month plan that allows 150 Mb of data. But according to the WSJ report, this is merely a "holiday promotion."

While AT&T has taken a hardline approach by capping usage, the two smaller carriers, Sprint and T-Mobile (third- and fourth-largest, respectively) have taken speed into account. Sprint charges an additional $10 a month to customers who want to take advantage of its burgeoning 4G WiMax network (in fact, they charge it to anyone who purchases a "4G"-branded device, regardless of whether the service is available in the area). And T-Mobile, which also offers a low-usage smartphone data plan similar to Verizon's, now throttles data speeds when consumers reach 5 GB of usage in a month.

What does Seidenberg think of the two companies? "There are too many players in the industry," he said. "I think it would be healthy if there's more consolidation."

As for that pesky iPhone deal: Seidenberg admitted that Verizon's push for LTE helped garner Apple's interests, but wouldn't comment on whether or when Big Red would get the iPhone. "If the iPhone comes to us, it's because Apple thinks it's time," he said. "Our interests are beginning to come together more but they have to take steps to align their technology with ours." 

"A lot of people pay zero for the cellphone ... That's what it's worth." -- Apple Chief Operating Officer Timothy Cook

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