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