ItsOn's Zact Shows How Data Plans Should Be: Exactly Right Every Month

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2013-05-13
Data plans

ItsOn's Zact Shows How Data Plans Should Be: Exactly Right Every Month

Figured out how many minutes or megabytes of data you need for your smartphone every month? Neither has anyone else, meaning most people overpay, except for those who get throttled when they least expect it.

When eWEEK's Michelle Maisto alerted me to ItsOn's Zact, the first thing I did was go to my mobile phone account and check my plan. If you do the same thing I did, you'll almost certainly find that you're paying far too much for data every month. I do this because I don't want to find myself in a position of needing the data and not having it available. I can only imagine having a photo I need to send to eWEEK, and finding myself throttled to 2G speeds.

With Zact, it would seem that those days are over. This new wireless company has a novel approach to wireless plans, which is to let you buy exactly what you need and no more for each kind of service. This means that if you talk a lot but never send text messages, then you don't need to pay for text messages. But suppose—like most of us—you really don't know what you need?

The fact that most people don't really know what they need for data service and calling minutes is where Zact makes its huge difference. Let's say you pick the Zact plan that gives you 10,000 text messages, but you actually only needed 197 text messages. What happens is that Zact will reimburse your account for the messages you signed up for but didn't actually use. In other words, you'd pay for 200 messages, rather than 10,000.

The way Zact works is that you decide how many minutes of voice calling, or how much data or how many text messages you think you'll need. If you underestimate your requirements, you can add more minutes to your plan from your phone. If you overestimate, then you'll get a refund.

In its current rate chart, Zact plans top out at 5,000 minutes of talk time, 15,000 text messages and 5GB of data. Zact plans don't say what will happen if you go over those limits. But for the vast majority of users, these limits are far beyond what they're ever likely to use.

For most people, Zact's flexibility is what will really matter. If you need more minutes in your plan, Zact includes an app that lets you change the plan to one with more minutes (or text messages or data). You can also set up your data plan so it will work with specific services, such as Facebook, but not others.

But if you're a heavy user of all of your mobile services, Zact may not be your least expensive option. An unlimited plan with T-Mobile would cost $70 per month, plus the cost of your phone if you bought it from T-Mobile. Verizon Wireless would cost the same thing, but with 4GB of data rather than unlimited data. Both plans have unlimited voice minutes and an unlimited number of text messages. Sprint, the service that carries Zact's wireless traffic, is in the same ballpark. Like Zact, T-Mobile sells its phones without a subsidy.

ItsOn's Zact Shows How Data Plans Should Be: Exactly Right Every Month

While users can get a tailored plan from Zact that exactly matches their needs, the unlimited plans from the major carriers are coming down in price, driven at least in part by T-Mobile's aggressive pricing. With Zact, the closest thing the company has to an unlimited plan is 5,000 minutes of voice, 15,000 text messages and 5GB of data. If you got that, it would cost $225.88. Of course, I realize that almost no one will ever use the maximum on all three.

But what's not unusual is that you could hit one of those. The 5GB limit could be a problem if you like to watch movies with your phone, or if you're sharing your plan with high school or college kids who can rack up some impressive text message numbers. With T-Mobile, I could do all of those things and still pay $70.

Of course, most people don't do all of those things. In fact, most don't come close to doing any those maximum numbers, and in situations such as that, Zact can in fact save money by tailoring your service needs. So what Zact is doing is allowing you to create a plan that exactly matches what you're doing, but not necessarily one that will save you money.

But what Zact also does is adjust your bill to reflect what you've actually done, so that you're never paying more than you should for any type of usage. For a lot of users, this meets a very important need. You don't need to predict your data and text message usage, Zact figures it out for you.

There are some limitations. You have to use a phone from Zact, and it has to run on Sprint. For some users, the fact that Zact sells unsubsidized phones might be a shock, although T-Mobile changed to that plan a few weeks ago. Ultimately, buying your own phone rather than paying for a subsidized device in your phone bill saves a lot of money. But T-Mobile will finance the phone over 24 months at zero interest.

What Zact has done is something that's a very good idea, and if it's successful enough to attract customers, it may change the way carriers charge for calling plans. But that doesn't necessarily mean it's also less expensive, because it may not be.

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