Verizon phasing out unlimited data as customers switch to 4G

Updated. Verizon Wireless(s vz)(s vod) plans to close down the mobile broadband buffet for good, phasing out unlimited plans as customers upgrade from 3G phones to 4G. Verizon CFO Fran Shammo revealed the policy plan change on Wednesday while speaking at a J.P. Morgan conference, saying it must turn off the unlimited spigot as a prerequisite for moving to shared family data plans, FierceWireless reported.

Verizon ended unlimited data last summer, but it also grandfathered its old all-you-can-eat customers into their $30 plans in perpetuity. That practice now seems to be ending. Shammo said that Verizon will launch its data share service in mid-summer, which would eliminate the single device/single data plans it offers today. But Shammo added that those shared plans would be the only tiers it offers for 4G customers, meaning anyone upgrading from a 3G to 4G device would have to discard their unlimited plan and sign up for a monthly data tier, according to Fierce.

We’re not sure how this affects customers who carried their unlimited 3G plans over to 4G devices. Nor do we know if Verizon plans to shut down unlimited for all of its customers, even if they stick with 3G devices. It will be increasingly hard for them to do so, however, since Verizon plans to stop selling 3G-only devices and turn its entire smartphone portfolio 4G. We’re still trying to get more details from Verizon and will update when we know more.

Update: Well, we heard back from Verizon, but didn’t get much. A spokesperson said she had no comment beyond what Shammo said in his speech. We’ll probably have to wait for Verizon to officially announce the share plan before we know more. What we do know is that this will affect a lot of customers. Verizon has sold an awful lot of 3G smartphones in the last few quarters, and while it doesn’t report how many of those customers are grandfathered into unlimited plans, AT&T(s t) provides a useful point of comparison. Last quarter AT&T reported that 39 percent of its smartphone customers were still on unlimited plans. AT&T ended all-you-can-eat 13 months before Verizon, so it’s had a lot more time to shift customers over to data tiers.

Update 2: Verizon Wireless issued a statement late Wednesday. Though it didn’t address the phasing out of unlimited directly, it did confirm that any overhaul it’s pricing structures would be linked directly to the introduction of shared data plans:

As we have stated publicly, Verizon Wireless has been evaluating its data pricing structure for some time. Customers have told us that they want to share data, similar to how they share minutes today. We are working on plans to provide customers with that option later this year.

We will share specific details of the plans and any related policy changes well in advance of their introduction, so customers will have time to evaluate their choices and make the best decisions for their wireless service. It is our goal and commitment to continue to provide customers with the same high value service they have come to expect from Verizon Wireless.