We've reported on AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson's ideas on "toll-free" data usage, but it looks like he's expecting another big shift in data plans - the availability of data-only cellphone plans.

Indicating that we could expect such plans to arrive within two years' time, Stephenson said that text messages and phone calls "would be considered just another form of data." So, instead of having limits on minutes, text messages, and data usage, all would be combined under a single counter.

Carriers such as AT&T make a good deal of their profits from calling and texting plans because they use such little data, but Stephenson believes that these data-only plans are necessary because of the growing prominence of apps such as Skype that replace the functionality of phone calls using data.

Stephenson did not include any pricing figures for these plans, nor any definite dates on when AT&T may be implementing them, so (for the time being) it's difficult to tell what kind of impact this may have on the consumer.

Depending on the price, people who don't regularly use minutes or text messages could benefit from data-only plans. On the other hand, the cost may increase for everyone, as data limits could become even more restrictive.

Stephenson expects these changes to start taking effect gradually over the next two years, saying "I don't think we'll see a big flash cut, but you'll see that propagate into the marketplace."

Source: arstechnica, Light Reading

  • Jonathan Wong

    Throttling galore anyone?

  • Guest

    Why are they going to wait YEARS to do this?
    Wouldn't it be better to have "data only" customers... than to not have them?

  • Guest

    Why are they going to wait YEARS to do this?
    Wouldn't it be better to have "data only" customers... than to not have them?

  • guest

    Uh huh and how much data does 1 minute of talk time equal to? Overage charges galore.

    • Wayne Randall

       I've used 55 minutes this cycle, ZDbox reports my phone.apk has chewed up 28.14MB of data.  I've also used 42 sms for 338.42KB. I get 1.95 minutes of talk per MB, and I can squeeze 125 sms/MB.

      If you talk for 2000 minutes a month and send 125 000 sms, then I'd be concerned about overages.  Among other things.. 

  • guest

    Uh huh and how much data does 1 minute of talk time equal to? Overage charges galore.

  • http://codytoombs.wordpress.com/ Cody Toombs

    So he's predicting that customers are going to want to go data only...

    And in other news, the Wright Brothers have discovered a way to defy gravity. We ask, is it real or an elaborate hoax?

  • http://codytoombs.wordpress.com/ Cody Toombs

    So he's predicting that customers are going to want to go data only...

    And in other news, the Wright Brothers have discovered a way to defy gravity. We ask, is it real or an elaborate hoax?

    • http://AndroidPolice.com/ Liam Spradlin

      I think the distinction here is Stephenson's predicting that the industry will move toward plans that act the same way current plans do, but which are simplified into one single counter, rather than different combinations of minutes/text/data. Not necessarily that the packages will offer data only in the current sense of the word.

      • http://codytoombs.wordpress.com/ Cody Toombs

        I was really just going for the joke :)

        But, to speak seriously about it... For years (since before the first iPhone even came out) people have been talking about data-only plans. There's tons of VoIP options that have made it common place for people to hold conversations over Wi-Fi.  I know people who intentionally got the cheapest possible talk/text plan with an unlimited data plan, and they just used Skype for all of their talking. Taken to the extreme, I remember an article on Lifehacker a few years ago that detailed how somebody had gone about using an iPod Touch as a total replacement for a phone while carrying around a Verizon Mi-Fi (sp?) in the "rare" occasions Wi-Fi wasn't available.

        True, for marketing purposes, it's easier to not explain to people how it all works. You just tell them there's a single counter and you can use it however they like... But ultimately, it's FAR cheaper to eventually drop the voice channel and either re-allocate it to a new and insanely faster data technology (Data Utility Master Backbone, aka, DUMB) or bundle it into whatever is current at the time (LTE-Super Elite Transfer, aka, LTE-SEX). I could be wrong, but I think this would really just be a cost-cutting measure that happens to be great for marketing and far easier to sell to people.

  • squiddy20

    This really isn't that hard to imagine. There's already countless VOIP apps available that allow you to make phone calls over a data connection, and tons of texting apps that transmit via the Internet, both of which are relatively low cost and/or free. Granted, I've never used any of said apps, so I can't speak towards the reliability of them vs. standard texting/calling, but I imagine it's on par.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/7GU4N7CVDBJXMZOBFO3DMIQZH4 J

    Phase 2 of converting grandfathered unlimited users to more expensive tiered plans...

    Want your tablet & phone to use the same data account?  Sure, but you gotta give up your unlimited data...  Don't make any voice calls & want to ditch that part of your plan? Sure, but guess what...  You can't keep your unlimited data that you've some how managed to hold onto still despite our best efforts...

  • Spydie

    I think the guy is nuts... this is never going to happen.  Most of ATT plans they sell include unlimited texting and more than enough minutes to handle the occasional business call.  Most calls are made mobile t0 mobile, and with the right plan (their best-sellling plans), they are all free, plus for the few people you talk to that don't have a cell phone (anyone?) they have the 10 free numbers for you add.  And with roll-over minutes, does anyone actually go over their talk time?  No.  All the problem is with people going over their data minutes.  On top of that, over 50% of the nation is still not on high-speed internet.  If you don' have at least 12mps speed, VOIP doesn't work very well.  Voip is never going to replace cell phone calls.

    • Superman

      They could still do carrier detection for free mobile to mobile yo. In fact it would be easier over data network, just send a packet. They could still have 10 free numbers over data network. In fact it would be easier... Everything you just said would be easier over an all data network.... how do you think VOIP works? (And speed is just quality. Cellphone quality is a lot lower than VOIP quality. lol) For example go get some skype credit and call someone on 3g, it's really not that bad and skype is a piss poor example of VOIP because they use proprietary protocols. 

    • strykyr

      You pay 30 bucks for unlimited texting and you must have the 700 minute plan to qualify for the $30 texting plan.  

  • LazarusDark

    It may be sooner than I expected then. But they know its inevitable. Can't wait for fully realized Google Voice.
    Currently I pay like $50 for 700 minutes plus 30 for grandfathered unlimited. But I only use maybe 20 minutes of call time at most, and I've already dropped text a while back thanks to Gvoice. I think offering 60$ per month for a data only plan would be more than fair for grandfathered unlimited. But if its less than 10gb, $40 would feel overpriced to me.

  • X2caleb2X

    If we were to move towards a data plan, doesn't that mean we can also make phone calls/text when your on wifi?

    • guest

      Do that now with Groove IP and Google Voice apps

  • Steve Schneider

    Step one: Rape everyone by taking unlimited data away. Step two: Force them to go data only. Step three: Get mad money on overages... Sounds like a Verizon move.

  • Tupadre

    If it is data only, then there is not international roaming to make phone calls...

    • http://codytoombs.wordpress.com/ Cody Toombs

      I think you meant to say 'long distance calling'. International roaming would definitely still be in effect, it would just charge you based on data usage instead of calling.  There's absolutely nothing that changes how you're phone makes a connection to the cellular tower.

      Regarding long distance calling, if you were using AT&T's built-in VoIP (remember, you'd still need some kind of 'translation' layer that turns your 'call' into a real phone call when communicating with customers on other networks), they could still impose a charge. Anyone who knows better would just pay for a different service.

  • http://twitter.com/SimchaStein Fred Stein

    Great idea. BoxTop has the toolkit to build Mobile Apps to support this business model, and with the User Interfaces and the instrumentation at:
    BoxTop dot TV.

  • http://www.mobilesignalboosters.net/ mobile phone signal booster

    More good news for At&T consumers. Data-Only cell phone plans may be a good idea for AT&T to keep their special users. But the plans shall arrive early before two years.

  • Dale Fulmer

    My name is Dale
    have tried for four times to get bundle my package unlimited long distance and unlimited local calling plus the internet bill should be $68.48. They charge me all long distance calling,please get someone to help us. I have been told they have it streighten out, wrong wrong at&t please get someone TO help