One Data Plan for Multiple Devices: What a Concept!

Rogers Communications (s rci), a Canadian cable television and wireless communications provider, said on Friday it will allow customers to share existing mobile broadband plans between devices for a $15 monthly fee. This differs from a tethering or hotspot plan because it’s actually a bill-sharing function: customers can add a secondary 3G-enabled device without purchasing a separate and more expensive full data plan for it. Two devices, for example, would share the monthly data allotment from a single plan.

The new plans are already live on Rogers’ site and seem reasonable when compared to the current and prevalent idea that every device requires its own monthly data plan. For an extra $15, Rogers customers with an eligible smartphone plan can share between 1 GB and 5GB of data among the handset and another device that has a 3G radio. Owners of 3G USB dongles or notebooks with integrated 3G can share their data connection among devices for a $20 monthly fee. The bill share option doesn’t provide any additional megabytes to use; it simply provides data for another 3G device without requiring a separate plan. Some may balk at the monthly fee — or just add a mobile hotspot device with data plan — for this reason.

What’s driving the potential for data sharing between devices? “Data sharing is important because tablets will not replace smartphones,” Rogers Chief Marketing Officer John Boynton said at a conference, held last week to discuss the impact of such secondary devices. Indeed, some are grumbling about the high price of required data plans for 3G tablets, such as Samsung’s Galaxy Tab.

Although Samsung has reportedly sold 1 million Tabs, nearly all of the U.S. sales have resulted in new data plans. A subsidized version of the device is sold through carriers who require a monthly data fee. As appealing as the Galaxy Tab is to me personally, I’ll simply wait for a Wi-Fi version because I don’t want another monthly data plan. I don’t use up the data allowance I have today on my two existing plans for a T-Mobile Android smartphone and a MiFi device on Verizon’s (s vz) network.

I suspect I’m not alone in paying for more data than I use on more than one device, but one aspect that has helped are recent moves towards the offering of data buckets. In June, for example, AT&T (s t) stopped selling unlimited data plans on new contracts, instead giving customers a choice between 200 MB or 2 GB of data. Verizon and Sprint (s s) followed suit after tablets arrived: each offers limited data buckets for the Samsung Galaxy Tab, for example, and Verizon has extended such options to its mobile hotspot product as well.

Ultimately, the situation boils down to carriers balancing supply and profits against the massively increasing consumer demand for data: research firm Inform predicts monthly mobile data use to rise 700 percent over the next five years. While the recent plan changes by the U.S. carriers are a step in the right direction for all but the heaviest of mobile device users, Rogers is setting an even better precedent.

If I buy 5 GB of data in a given month, I’d like to use it as I see fit on any of my devices: my current iPad or a future Android tablet, perhaps. Maybe my tablet and I should move to Canada? Of course, if Rogers really wants me to move up north, they should consider not charging an additional fee soley for the convenience of using data on the device of my choosing. Either that, or add more data for the money!

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