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As expected, thisThursday Verizon Wireless will switch its smartphone data pricing to a usage-based model - similar to what AT&T and T-Mobile have already done.

The NewCaps

New Verizon smartphone subscribers will have to choose a plan that will have monthlyusage caps:2GB for $30, 5GB for $50, and 10GB for $80. Customers will pay $10 for each additional GB they use beyond their plan. Existing customers can keep their unlimited data plans. (Feature phone owners will pay $10 per month for 75MB of data usage.)

The new pricing schemecomes as mobile operators in the U.S.seek ways tooffset explodingdemand for mobile Internet accessand media consumption againstnetwork capacity.

Reality: the usage capswon't bother most smartphone owners very much.Typically, they stay under 2GB.Only the heaviest users will be affected.

Still, as these data plans become the norm over the next several years, consumers will have to adjust to a new wirelessreality: Figuring out how much data they really useper month.Hardly anyone (includingthe wireless "experts" I talk to) hasa clue.People justknow they wantto avoid the dreadedsurprise bill that blows a budget.

Somewhat Confusing Time

So,it's going to be a somewhat confusing time formany consumersas they figure out what price levelis best for them. And it won't get easier as multiple-device mobile data plans (e.g., smartphone, tablet, family combinations) become common as well.

Smart operators will offereasy-to-understand comparisons(and historical data) so people can make intelligent choices. If they don't,consumer backlash could get ugly, and that's never good for business. Or, consumerscould go to Sprint, which for now is the lone Tier 1 operator in the U.S. sticking with unlimited data plans.

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