- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 5, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - Are you a wireless data glutton or a nibbler?

New Verizon Wireless customers will have to figure that out starting Thursday as the country’s largest wireless carrier plans to roll out data plans with monthly usage caps.

Verizon said Tuesday that under the plans, new smartphone users will pay between $30 and $80 each month for plans that include 2 to 10 gigabytes of data usage. Customers who use more than their allotment will be charged $10 more for each additional gigabyte. The company currently charges $30 a month for an unlimited smartphone data plan.

This is well-trod ground _ AT&T introduced capped data plans a year ago. T-Mobile USA changed its unlimited data plan in May. Although it doesn’t charge overage fees, the company slows the speed at which customers can send and receive data once they hit their allotted amount.

The new Verizon plans will apply both to new customers and existing customers who are trading up to smartphones.

The tricky thing about capped data plans is that few people have a clue how much a megabyte of data is, so they don’t know much to sign up for. The phones themselves aren’t much help: Although they can tell you how much data you’ve consumed so far this month, they can’t tell you which of your smartphone’s myriad functions are responsible.

By contrast, a minute spent talking on the phone is easy to understand, and many people have learned roughly how many minutes they use every month.

For AT&T, the introduction of data caps has gone quite well, but some customers are complaining because their data usage reports are hard to decipher. AT&T says 90 percent of its customers on capped plans stay within the limits, but it won’t say how much those who go over end up paying, on average.

Here’s some help determining which plan will work for you, even if you don’t know how many megabytes are in a gigabyte.

_ Less than 200 megabytes per month.

For those with feature phones who want a taste of the Web, Verizon will be offering a plan with 75 megabytes per month plan for $10 per month. But any plan with less than 200 megabytes per month should be considered mainly a tease.

Email, automatic software updates and other data consumption in the background will easily eat up 75 megabytes in a month. That could leave you paying $10 or more in overuse fees _ more than you would if you had chosen a more expensive plan to begin with. This plan sounds like Verizon’s way of luring people to smartphones. Pick something like this, and pretty soon, you’ll find you need a higher data cap.

_ 200 megabytes per month.

This is a popular size, offered by both AT&T ($15 per month) and T-Mobile ($10), but Verizon won’t be offering it. When it introduced this plan, AT&T said 65 percent of its subscribers consumed less than 200 megabytes.

But that was a year ago. The average monthly data consumption for a smartphone user back then was 230 megabytes per month, according to an analysis of phone bills by The Nielsen Co. In the first quarter of this year, the figure had grown to 435 megabytes per month.

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