Verizon Wireless is applying the Internet-access pricing model to its mobile, high-speed data business, offering what it called an "all you can eat" US$99.99 a month flat-rate price to high-use enterprise customers.
Analysts predicted that other cellular carriers will quickly follow the lead of Bedminster, N.J.-based Verizon Wireless, the country's largest cellular carrier.
Isaac Ro, an analyst at Aberdeen Group Inc. in Boston, said that mobile data customers, who are used to flat-rate Internet service, chafe at the per-megabyte or per-minute pricing of current mobile data plans, including those offered by Verizon.
Phil Redman, an analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn., viewed the Verizon flat-rate deal as a good deal for users, noting that he can easily consume 12MB of data in an hour. "I would say [Verizon is] heading in the right direction and has set the bar for pricing on wireless data packet services," he said.
Verizon plans to introduce flat-rate pricing June 4 on its 1X Express Network, which offers mobile users speeds of between 40K and 60K bit/sec, with burst speeds of 144K bit/sec. This service is aimed squarely at enterprise customers, and John Stratton, Verizon's chief marketing officer, said in a statement that the company believes that it's "defining the enterprise market for high-speed wireless data services."
Verizon hasn't yet rolled out its 1X market nationwide. The service is currently available on much of the Eastern Seaboard; in major Midwestern cities including Chicago, St. Louis and the Kansas City area; in major markets around Detroit; in Texas cities including Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio; and on the east and west coasts of Florida.
Western areas served by the Verizon 1X network include Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area and all of Southern California, including Los Angeles, San Bernadino, San Diego and Palm Springs. Ro said widespread coverage is as important to enterprises as pricing. Enterprises "want to know who has the best network," he said.
Sprint PCS Group believes that offering nationwide coverage is the best approach and won't discuss its service or pricing plans until it turns on its entire national third-generation (3G) service this summer, according to spokesman Dan Wilinsky. "We believe the race is to the finish line, not the starting line," he said.
But, without going into detail, Wilinsky said Sprint PCS will ensure that its 3G data rates are "very competitive with all offers seen to date," including the Verizon flat-rate plan.
Ritch Blasi, a spokesman for AT&T Wireless Services Inc. in Redmond, Wash., couldn't say whether his company -- which pioneered flat-rate pricing for cellular voice service -- planned to match Verizon's flat-rate data pricing. But, he added, "we're looking at our business pricing as we speak; pricing will be adjusted as we find the need to do it."
Computerworld feature writer Matt Hamblen contributed to this article.