This is the latest in our Weekend Poll series. For last week's, see Google + Motorola: A Match Made In Heaven, Or A Disaster Waiting To Happen?

A few days ago, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson revealed that the cellular industry would be moving towards data-only plans in the next few years, rather than the separated voice, message, and data system that is used today. Under the new system, voice and messages would be billed as data. The question, obviously, is at what rate they'd billed.

Initially, this may seem like a great idea for both parties. Obviously it allows carriers to get a handle on all the services their customers are using (such as Skype for calls rather than normal voice), as well as sneak in some "toll-free" data services. For customers, they can pay for the cell service as a single (hopefully bigger) bucket and use it as they want, rather than having to balance various smaller buckets.

But if the past and present practices of carriers are any indication, the move may prove to be one that ultimately hurts the consumer in favor of benefitting shareholders. I've long complained that US carriers do all they can to overcharge and gouge customers, and that may be what happens here.

What are your thoughts? Sound off below, and head down to the comments to discuss.

Is A Carrier Move To Data-Only Service A Win Or Lose For Consumers?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...
Aaron Gingrich
Aaron is a geek who has always had a passion for technology. When not working or writing, he can be found spending time with his family, playing a game, or watching a movie.

  • http://twitter.com/rubadub234 Rob Haltmeier

    Customers always lose

    • http://twitter.com/zepiusftw Shawn Thompson

      its true. no company wants customers to win. ever.

      • Joseph Cascio

        Agreed. And AT&T is the worst of all. Every month my mom gets billed $2 for .01 MB of data because it Pay-per-use. I have to call them every month and make them take it off the bill. But imagine all those who don't notice.

  • Abhijeet Mishra

    Wow, talk about new methods to loot the customers. Really is a sad state of affairs in the US with these carriers. Android has the update problem, but it's much worse due to carriers in the US, and because of which people think it's horrible everywhere. Galaxy S got Froyo and Gingerbread updates fast enough, but since the US variants didn't, people made it look like Samsung/Android suck in updates.

    Again, there is a problem, but not as much outside the US. But then again, most people assume that only what happens in the US is important (from what I read on most sites) :P

  • http://digg.com/users/OmegaWolf Silver Fang

    Customers will win. This is what I've been waiting for. Who actually talks on their phones these days anyway?

    • Jay Ryan

       Actually, most of us do from time to time.  I use it more then my land line.  I'm afraid that this will actually drive data prices up.  Also, since VOIP calls do take a decent amount of data, then this could cause more problems for customers than help.

      also, since most people won't go for this plan, texting will still be needed for the average person.  Although there are SMS alternatives, the average person wont' go for them.

      • aaronratner

        Google Voice for text and Groove Ip for calls over 4G. Voip call use almost no data. Do the research.

  • Aaa

    Compared to Australia, everything is cheaper in the US with the exception of mobile phone service. The difference is huge, and I can't believe that there is so much discrepancy. Is there not any competition in this space?

    • Abhijeet Mishra

      Here in India, call rates are damn cheap, one of the cheapest in the world. 3G data rates are also coming down very nicely (only have 3G since 2010 so will take get even more cheaper in the time to come). Though there are around 7 or 8 major operators here, so huge competition, and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India keeps them under check. In the US it seems there's no competition and the companies see fit to "rape customers' wallets" as much as they can. 

  • http://ashn.myopenid.com/ Ash

    Carriers will find a way to rape your wallets, customers lose!

  • Callum Saunders

    The fact that we are charged over the top for services we can get for free from third parties is awful, as long as it's done correctly the customer will win. Data-only plans give the carriers an opportunity to set a flat rate for a contract, price varying only by device choice. It also lessens the gap between phones and tablets.

  • Robert Oliveira

    Companies are in business to sell a product to one or more customers who desire or are made to desire that product. The focus is, and always has been, the generation of revenue with which to keep the business model operating (pay expenses and exorbitant CEO salaries). For those companies with shareholders it is also to offer said shareholders an attractive or acceptable return on their initial investment. The remaining profit goes to support the companies short and long-term plans for R&D, marketing and, of course, legal actions against others and in defense of self, patents, licenses and products. 

    Any customer who thinks a company exists for anything other than this (e.g. for their benefit or to "be nice" to them), doesn't understand the business world.

  • Omar

    well now you will pay $100 plus taxes for 10Gb data with no calls no text wow great deal "yeah sure" the plan of unlimited calls exist along time ago and is very cheap why i going to sacrifice my calls. give me unlimited data 4g LTe for $40 and unlimited calls and texts for $40 more that's is a great deal and customer win that way.

  • Robert Oliveira

    That said, I do think that a data-only or data-focused framework for pricing might actually be more realistic and in conjunction with the way a growing number of people use their phones today. While I still see people talking on their phones through the day (and certainly while in their cars), I personally hardly - if ever - use more than 50% of the 450 minutes I pay for every month with Sprint.

    I guess we'll just have to wait and see if a data-only focus to wireless service pricing makes sense. It would seem that it makes sense from the carrier side of the equation and when a service provider embraces something it almost certainly means that there is some profit-making to be had. In that respect, the customer will almost certainly be on the losing end of the equation.

    • aaronratner

      Data-focused sounds good. I want my minutes as an after thought. I only need about 100 to be on the safe side. I now pay $70 or 1000 shared. I'd much rather that go towards data I actually use.

  • LazarusDark

    "I don't know". I really want to be optimistic and hope for a consumer win, but experience tells us carriers will always give us as little as possible and charge as much as possible for maximum profit. So I fear, at least initially, these data only plans may cost even more that minutes+text+data. If the data is unlimited, then people may be willing to pay this, but if its limited, I would be pissed if its not half of my current plan ($50 for 700 min that I don't need plus $30 for grandfathered unlimited data)

  • http://twitter.com/rohanXm Rohan Mathur

    VOIP will take up as much data as music streaming.
    So the only realistic amount would be like 5gb per customer, or, lets say $50 a month. And that is with minimal data usage.

    Thats up from the $30 min. most companies have for secondary lines w/ data and messaging.

    Not to mention if you do a lot of data browsing, you would literally need 7gb-10gb of data, or around $70-100. Insane.

    • Dan

       "VOIP will take up as much data as music streaming."

      Are you really that dumb?  Voice calls are hugely bandwidth restricted before they ever get to the codec.  We're talking about audio bandwidth here, not data.  Old-school pots lines were only 300hz to 3khz.  That means you only need a 6k sample rate.  Most streamed music, even intended for crappy headphones is going to be at least a 40k sample rate.  So, that would be a bit over SIX times as much data per second if the music is IN MONO.  Double it for stereo  How much music are you streaming in mono?

      • cabbott9

        I'm in agreement with Dan on this one. After codec's are in place a SIP
        trunk with G.711 is going to take roughly 80-100k and one using G.729 is
        going to take about 60k. Voice traffic isn't nearly as intensive as media. You can squeeze 16 trunks on G.711 into a DS1 before you start to get any degradation of quality. On the flip side it only takes one a-hole on youTube or Pandora to starve that same DS1.

      • Tnpapadakos

        thats why calls sound like crap, theyre only 6k

  • Seth M

    Let's see carriers extend their network into areas that only have basic service signal, no sign of data for hours. It would be beyond ridiculous if they tried that anytime soon. I'd be dropping calls everywhere, even in Phoenix which is currently a pretty stable 4G city. I'd hate to see what happens downtown where the buildings make service really spotty

    • bluespruce4wd

      Same here in the woods. I'd appreciate a reliable signal period. I do not think I should have to worry about being able to make a 911 call in an emergency.

  • ericl5112

    Like so many things, it depends on how the carrier does it.  Considering their track record, we'd probably lose.  However, I'd gladly pay AT&T's current data plan price if an upgraded contract didn't also require voice and texting plans.  Sadly, a data only plan will likely be more expensive.  Look at tablet data plans.

  • Bojan Gutic

    Chances are, once this happens, they'll charge an exorbitant amount of money for very limited data. I'm talking $50 for 2GB, and numbers like that.

    • Dan

       Idiot.  Who are "they"?  The great conspiracy of carriers?  That must be why they're all cooperating today to keep prices above the $45/gigabyte level.

      • LinuxFrenzy

        They're all cooperating?.That is some funny stuff right there if you can provide evidence to the BS you're posting I might take you serious in the future.

        • Dan

          Really?  Too dumb to realize it was sarcasm?  Even with the "$45/gigabyte" exaggeration, you still couldn't figure it out?

          Does mom know you're using the internet?

          • Steveo031986

            You're a jerk.

          • LinuxFrenzy

            Come on man if you're going to try and insult me come up with some better shit instead of the typical mom insults.Gotta love the keyboard warriors who have nothing better to do then hide behind a screen and keyboard.

          • Guest

            Come on man if you're going to insult me come up with some better stuff instead of the typical mom insult.Yeah just keep being the little keyboard warrior that you are since you have nothing better to do kid.

  • Fatelovesfate

    In today,s greed hungry world, there is no circumstances that would ever be beneficial to the consumer!!!

  • Wilkinson John

    Will data only sims and networks rolling out IPv6 mean VOIP on mobiles will finally take off?

  • aaronratner

    My base bill is $70 a month voice that I simply do use. I pay less for data and text than I do for voice. I would rather pay a significantly higher price for data only and use voip for the few calls I make (it could be 20 minutes a month) than pay an extra $70 a month for something I don't even use. But as long as carriers call these devices phones, which is the LAST thing it is for me (it's a device that happens to have a phone call making app), they can tie them to a contract and charge ridiculous prices. Imagine your cable company told you what TV to use. I'd jump on data only so fast. I'm still not sure why these devices are sold via phone companies. They'll have to offer data only since they aren't spending billions to ramp up a voice network that was already working.

  • MkVsTheWorld

    Considering AT&T's track record, this might be bad. The idea is great but I fear that this would be just a way to charge customers more. If wireless carriers dropped charging for texting and calling, then where would they get the revenue for charging for calls/texts? They would have to raise data plans even more. Right now, my calls after 9 are free. Would my carrier offer unlimited data after 9? I doubt that... but maybe this could benefit higher data users. We just don't know....

  • jlschulz098

    DON't be stupid. Data service is nowhere near available enough to replace phone svice. I hike alot. There is more times nthan not that I try to get some data on my phone and rthere's no service available. But I can easily dial a number and get the answer I'm looking for.

    • Joey Bourgart

       your voice is data already

  • Andrew

    Did he not mean that they would offer the option of having data only plans? But keep the existing plans as well? That's how I read it anyway. I assumed that for some reason you can't get data-only plans in the US and that they would begin offering them. 

    The infrastructure for exclusively data-only plans isn't there at all at the moment. I lose usable data signal constantly as I travel around the UK, but I rarely ever completely use phone signal.

    • Andrew

      I rarely ever completely *lose* phone signal

  • Alvin B.

    What bugs me here is AT&T's bulldog determination to ditch DSL lines. Why? Well, if you get everyone on cellular plans, you can jack up rates and get away throttling, capping, overage charges, etc, without anyone (in the FCC) complaining. 

    • cabbott9

      AT&T is moving away from DSL because it no longer serves their best interest to keep their copper networks up and running. Cellular services have been cannibalizing their residential POTS and then you have MSO's eating into the SMB market with cable and fiber options that blow away the capabilities of ADSL. Even with funding from the PUC it doesn't make fiscal sense for AT&T or VZ to keep up their copper networks. AT&T is going to have to continue to roll out their Fiber to the Node service and VZ with their Fiber to Site. I'd rather see the US start to catch up to Europe with large scale fiber roll-outs than keep an unreliable, barely regulated, service like ADSL afloat. As someone who works for a CLEC and deals with large "up stream" services I can tell you that it's getting harder and harder to find a service that actually uses true TDM this day an age. OC3's and DS3's are a thing of the past. Nobody wants them and they aren't cost effective. 

  • X2caleb2X

    There's not enough information on the pricing for my to decide who wins and who lose

  • ElfirBFG

    I use maybe 100 voice minutes a month. Most of those are Fab10 numbers, so I never touch the voice minutes I am 'paying' for. All of my calls could be done with GVoice if I really wanted. I would want 6GB-unlimited on a data only plan though.

  • chris125

    I think it all depends on how they do it and how they charge. But most likely customers will lose, like they always do.

  • Joe Menard

    depends on pricing.

  • http://twitter.com/mircury119 Mircury119

    It's unfortunate this could be a great thing for consumers but carriers will make it so it hurts consumers buy raising data prices or making mandatory bundles of services to protect their ARPU. It's sad that they do everything they can to get the ARPU higher each year for investors and it only hurts consumers.

  • Steve Freeman

    It's hard to say. I think in this case at least, it really depends on pricing.