Service Plans: Conveying the Value Between Tiers to Subscribers

Recently, I found myself in Japan for the first time and got to experience its exhaustively thorough public transportation network firsthand. The operators put a lot effort into ensuring not just safety, but also timeliness and comfort. At the pinnacle of the Japanese transportation network we have the Shinkansen, also known as the bullet train. Being a visitor, I had the privilege of purchasing a Japan Rail Pass, which allows unlimited use of most lines for a specific duration.

Being able to zoom across prefectures in a few hours complemented the fast-paced work ethic of Japan’s major cities. Needless to say, the pass expired and I found myself far from Tokyo where I was to catch my return flight home. I had a few options:

Method Cost Travel Time
Bullet train $150 3 hours
Plane $100 1.5 hours + check-in
Coach bus $50 8 hours

Each option has clear advantages and disadvantages, and the travel time is heavily reflected on the pricing. This gives me sufficient information to make my decision.

Returning to the telecommunications world, let’s look at a typical comparison sheet for a data service:

Plan/Tier Cost Speed (up to) Bandwidth
Bronze $35 15 Mbps 150 GB
Silver $60 30 Mbps 300 GB
Gold $80 50 Mbps 500 GB
Wow $120 100 Mbps 1 TB

That is a chart for advanced users, folks who know their way around a home network and will easily call you out for not meeting the advertised speed rating. Many sites will attempt to put those numbers into further context, e.g. 15 minutes to download a 1 hour movie or download up to 5000 songs each month.

The issue I see with this chart is that these numbers are assuming that there is only going to be a single user in the household, and it doesn’t convey any limitations to what I can or cannot do. Limitations such as the number of concurrent HD streams each plan can handle. Without knowing what Megabits per second really is, how is a customer expected to know which plan allows his two daughters to stream video while he’s playing Xbox online with his buddies?

Adding another column that lists the number of household members the plan can support would be one solution, but I don’t think it’s the answer. There are far too many variables that come into play beyond the customer premises. Service providers wouldn’t want to be caught with false advertising of this sort. I think more human-friendly context is still needed, e.g. the Silver plan can support up to 3 HD Youtube streams. Perhaps the solution is a calculator where one can input the number of users, describe their usage patterns, and add additional devices — perhaps related to the Internet of Things (IoT) — to receive a suggested plan.

Bottom line is that if we make things easier to understand, it will be easier for folks to sign-up — less explanation required from the salesman, subscribers know what their packages can and cannot do, and they know exactly what they are paying for.