2014 is already shaping up to be the year when the nation's top wireless providers are proving their willingness to experiment with contracts.
Following AT&T's announcement on Monday that it would be enabling businesses to sponsor data for its customers, Sprint is touting it can ease data costs as well, but on a less corporate level.
The gimmick is the new "Framily" plan, essentially a version of family plans that can be adapted to groups of friends.
Available to new and existing customers, Sprint's Framily plan can support up to 10 phone lines at once.
The first new line of service starts at $55 per month (not including taxes and surcharges) per line for unlimited talk, text and 1GB of data. The cost goes down per person by $5 with each additional line, capped at maximum monthly discount of $30 per line.
If a "Framily" can get at least seven people together, then everyone gets unlimited talk, text and 1GB of data for $25 per month per line. For another $20 per month per line, Framily plan members can also upgrade to unlimited data with the opportunity to get a new phone every year.
Things are a little trickier for existing Sprint customers.
Existing Sprint customers currently on a plan with a subsidized phone will need to pay an additional $15 per month until the contract runs out -- or at least until the line is eligible for an upgrade. However, Sprint is promising to waive that fee for current customers who purchased a discounted phone before this Friday, January 10, when the whole thing launches -- if they are not already upgrade eligible.
While I'm not a huge fan of the name, the Framily plan seems like a great idea -- at least in theory. In fact, the idea of being able to share data costs (much like other utilities within the same household) among friends just comes across as one of those ideas that seem natural in hindsight.
The problem, which admittedly remains to be seen until put into practice, is that sharing mobile data isn't quite the same as sharing other household bills -- even home Internet service plans in which the data usage is virtually unlimited.
Digital sharing plans among friends actually make more sense for the content running on that data, such as Netflix and Hulu Plus, often now fees that are already been split up among friends whether these service providers condone that activity or not.
Also, sharing a contract with friends could end up being risky if something goes awry in the relationship, for whatever reason. That might not matter so much for people who have already agreed to sign leases together (or maybe it will just compound things, who knows?), but it might become awkward in the case of colleagues who don't work together anymore under less-than-friendly circumstances anymore -- even if Framily plan members are billed separately.
Again, all this remains to be seen in practice and once contracts are signed, there is no involvement required among the Framily whatsoever. At least Sprint, as well as other wireless providers, are finally demonstrating some flexibility in how customers can sign up. If only cable companies would follow suit.
Image via Sprint