Is It Time For Wireless Companies To Offer Data-Only Plans?

When was the last time you saw someone under the age of 21 willingly make a phone call when texting or e-mailing was an option? And reports show that free messaging apps are growing in popularity. So at what point will society just give up on voice and text services and go data-only?

“I’ll be surprised if, in the next 24 months, we don’t see people in the market place with data-only plans,” AT&T CEO Randall “Darth” Stephenson said at an investor conference last Friday. “I just think that’s inevitable.”

Unfortunately, writes the Wall Street Journal, if a major wireless company were to offer data-only plans, it would have to give up a substantial chunk of revenue lost from the customers who ditch profitable voice and text plans. This likely means higher data costs. So switching to data-only could end up costing you about as much as it costs you for data, voice and texting.

As we mentioned earlier this year, AT&T is considering a plan that would shift some of the cost of data-hogging apps on to the people that make them, thus allowing the wireless company from having to raise data rates.

Of course, with most carriers having ditched truly unlimited data plans, any data-only plan would also be capped and likely have hefty overage fees. Customers who drop voice service and switch to data-devouring VoIP services will need to pay extra attention to their usage to avoid bill shock.

Since Randy Stephenson predicts data-only is about two years off, we wanted to get a sense of whether people want this option now:


Edit Your Comment

  1. FatLynn says:

    I really have a hard time believing that there is anyone out there who NEVER needs voice service. How do you make a doctor’s appointment, for example?

    • visual77 says:

      Google Voice. You can still make a phone call, you can still receive phone calls, but it goes through your data service. You even have a phone number that can receive texts and has voicemail and all that jazz.

      • Hedgy2136 says:

        But you still need a SIP client of some sort. Simply having Google Voice won’t enable voice calls over a data network.

        • INsano says:

          Groove IP. I’m on T-Mob/Walmart’s $30/mo. for 5gb of data. It comes with 100 minutes and unl. texts too, but I don’t need them as I use Google Voice for the texts and Groove IP for the calls. Oh, it’s pre-paid and no-contract as well. Drawback is that call quality is sometimes unusable if you’re out of wi-fi range. I’m the type who would rather text anyway, and if I want to call someone to really talk I’ll just wait until I can sit down at home or at a wi-fi hotspot to chat. Been on this plan for more than 6 months and couldn’t be happier. As usual, AT&T looking far into the future, is already behind what’s being offered. But they don’t want their cash cow iPhone $90+/mo. crowd to know what’s really out there…

          • Hedgy2136 says:

            If you have a 4g ( and maybe 3g) connection, GrooveIP calls “should” be acceptable. The problem here is that T-Mobile only has Edge data, so no VOIP unless I’m in WiFi.

          • redspeed says:

            Im on the same plan- $30 a month for 5gb at 4g speeds then throttled to 2g afterwards. 100 minutes of talk time is kinda limited especially since you dont get free nights/weekends/mobile to mobile calls, but Groove IP/Talkatone works well for the most part. Talkatone seems to give better call quality compared to Groove IP.

          • incident_man says:

            With T-Mobile’s seemingly fire-sale like attitude vis a vis trying to get someone to buy their tower infrastructure, it continually AMAZES me why anyone would willingly buy cell service that has ANYTHING to do with T-Mobile.

            Their behaviour as of late is not something that would instill any sort of confidence in someone, even at such a low price.

      • MrEvil says:

        The Google Voice app on Android is not a VoIP app. It merely acts as an operator routing your voice call through their service without you having to dial your number.

    • Ogroat says:

      You could have a la carte minutes at some predetermined rate. Assuming everything else stays the same, it could save you money if you’re only using a small handful of minutes every month.

    • dangermike says:

      I use a prepaid voice and text service. I pay 10 cents a minute and ten cents to send or receive a text. My total usage is covered by a $100 card every 6 months or so. I do not use any data services but if I were to find a reasonable plan (say, $30-$40 a month for 4g speeds and at least 5 gigs of transfers), I would spring for it. I regularly carry an android-bsed mp3 player in addition to my cell phone, and being able to leave a mifi router in my car so I could have web access on my “lunch breaks” would be fantastic. As it is now, I have to preload all the entertainment I want to have access to, and that it is minorly inconvenient.

      • Liam Kinkaid says:

        You’re in luck! $30/mo on T-mobile’s 4G plan (actually 3.5-ish G), 5GB transfers, unlimited text, 100 minutes included.

    • proliance says:

      From my home phone?

    • silenthands says:

      I’m deaf. I got the Sprint Relay plan. It’s $33 a month… “unlimited” data and texting, voice minutes available for… I think it’s 20 cents a minute. In the… 3 years I’ve been on the plan, I only needed to use the actual voice minutes for about 3 minutes (when I asked a stranger to call my dad to let him know I was stranded and needed help).

    • Southern says:

      There are quite a few programs that allow for pay-per-call over VOIP on a SmartPhone – Skype MobileVOIP, Fring, TruPhone, Line2, JaJah.. There’s no real shortage.

      And then there’s good Android-to-Android VOIP products, like Tango, FreePP (and some of the above ones are free for Android-to-Android calls, like Fring and Line2)..

      I wouldn’t have a “Voice Plan” on my SmartPhone if I didn’t have to.. Don’t need one. Most of the people I call use FreePP anyway so they don’t drain their voice minutes (although I don’t care for myself, mine is Cricket, IE, unlimited), and if I have to make a call while I’m at home I prefer Google Voice because of my cordless headset & 12-hour battery life. :)

      Now that’s not to say there’s not still a NEED for true Voice plans. I’m sure some people (especially businesses) wouldn’t want to depend on the reliability of Fringe or Skype, for instance (not to mention the voice quality can really suck sometimes), but as an OPTION, I don’t see why not..

      Heck, there’s tablets out there that only use 3G/WiFi, aren’t there? Surely they have some type of “data only” plan, because they don’t even have microphones to make voice calls…

      • jeadly says:

        I have a hard time believing that people don’t understand that it’s all just data. The different classifications they use for it right now just allow phone companies to charge way more than they should be able to for some data packets, and make you buy more “products” that are essentially redundant data streams.

        • kc2idf says:

          I wish this was Slashdot, because I would mod you +1 Insightful for this one.

          All telecom services are just shuffling bits from point A to point B. The only advantage had by conventional voice services (versus VoIP) is a lack of lag, but guess what? Digital cell phones suffer from lag, too, ergo no advantage.

          On top of that, we are locked into a specific codec with voice service. With VoIP, the option exists to negotiate a codec based on what your phone knows in common with what the called party’s phone knows, and what the available bandwidth and reliability are. From a practical perspective, this means that cell phones could end up sounding better than landline phones, not worse like they do now.

    • kathygnome says:

      That’s what Google Voice is for.

  2. HogwartsProfessor says:

    No, with people using their cell phones for all their calling, it’s unrealistic to ditch voice service entirely. There are too many reasons you might need to call someone rather than text or email them.

    • Lucky225 says:

      It’s called VOIP, and 911 works regardless of if you have an active voice plan.

      • HogwartsProfessor says:

        Oh, I guess that would work. I didn’t realize VOIP worked over a smartphone. I don’t have one; all I have is a dumbphone.

        I do want one, but so I can play on the internet when I’m not supposed to. :)

  3. Hedgy2136 says:

    You can make voice calls with a data only plan (GrooveIP for instance), I doubt the wireless companies are going to give in easily.

    • Hartwig says:

      I agree, though if they are able to somehow still charge for text messages i could see they forgoing the voice plans. The text plans are the cash cows, and the phone companies will hold on as long as possible.

      • frank64 says:

        Text is free for many now, especially the pre-pay plans, but my texts is free with Sprint.

  4. TheMansfieldMauler says:

    As long as people have parents/grandparents/etc. who didn’t grow up during the texting era, the vast majority of people will still need voice services, even if only for very occasional use.

    • jnl says:

      You are exactly right! If my grandparents or parents were alive today- they could not handle texting. I am in my 60’s and do not text anyone; I don’t even know how to do it. If I need to tell you something, I”ll call ya or email ya! I think that about covers communications by phone!

    • Willow16 says:

      So true. My dad does have a cell phone but he does not text. There are so many times I just want to shoot him a quick text but can’t because he wouldn’t even know how to look at it. VZW keeps offering him upgrades to a smart phone because he’s had his current phone about four years and is no longer under contract but I told him that it would be a complete waste of money for him. I also think he would never be able to figure out how to work a smart phone.

  5. JGKojak says:

    Help! There’s someone breaking into my house. Send the police.

    • HomerSimpson says:

      Well it’ll probably get the same response a phone call would (“we’ll be over whenever we get around to it…”)

  6. Herbz says:

    To all the commenters saying “But how would we call people?”

    Its called VOIP. Its been around for a while already.

  7. notserpmh says:

    This is why I love Virgin Mobile. I pay $25 a month (now $35), the price of most people’s data plans, and I get unlimited texting and data plus 300 minutes a month when I do need to make a call. Sound to be pretty much exactly what the AT&T guy is describing.

    • ZachPA says:

      As long as you’re within about 500 yards of one of Sprint’s four towers in the United States. No roaming over to Verizon towers for you. Do not pass go. Do not collect 200 megs.

  8. James says:

    So long Grandma. guess we’ll never speak again.

  9. consumed says:

    I have 450 AT&T anytime minutes that I hardly ever use up, I use maybe 100 minutes a month max. And even then I have like 3,000 rollover minutes banked up that I’ll never be able to burn through.

    If AT&T dropped my 450 minute plan to 100 minutes and dropped my bill by $20 a month I wouldn’t mind that terribly.

    • gedster314 says:

      T-Mobile has a $30/month available through Walmart that is 100 minutes and 5GB data. It’s unlimited data but after 5GB they start to throttle.

      • incident_man says:

        Problem with T-Mobile is their coverage is worse than Sprint’s. T-Mobile and AT&T are both GSM, but their 3G data frequencies are different. Even IF you were allowed to roam onto AT&T, your data would be restricted to 2G speed.

        Do Not Want.

  10. Lucky225 says:

    LOL @ “Yes I will miss voice calls” Apparently the consumerist hasn’t heard of this new fangled VoIP stuff that works on Data

    • Hartwig says:

      I am surprised at the number of people on here think that calls are restricted to voice plan. Maybe consumerist should have mentioned that there are apps which can make calls over wifi instead of the voice network.

  11. j2.718ff says:

    I look forward to the day when some business asks me for my phone number, and I can honestly tell them, “Sorry, I don’t have one.”

    • Mark702 says:

      You can do that now if you just don’t buy a phone. If you went text only like the article is talking about, you’d still have a phone number. Your comment in this context doesn’t really make sense.

  12. mjd74 says:

    How about just having an option of a SMALLER voice plan? The spouse and I seriously do not need 550 minutes of voice calling a month, but that’s the lowest option we can get with our ATT iPhones. We have never even come remotely close to using that all.

    I would love to be able to get a 100-minute voice plan, but I can’t forgo one completely.

    • dangermike says:

      I have a prepaid cell service that charges 10 cents a minute and 10 cents to send/receive texts. It is a common plan offered by one of the big 4 carriers in the US. I buy 2 cards a year for $100 each, and that’s all I pay for voice/text service. I also only have value debited from those cards when I use the service. If I all 1000 minutes/texts in a single day, there is no overage charge but if I don’t use them within a year, the value can expire.

      Anyway, what I’m getting at is I would really not mind picking up a data subscription with a mi-fi kind of device. It would allow me to hook up a tablet, laptop, or even my cell phone to receive data access and presumably could offer it through a low power router that wouldn’t necessarily have to be carried on my person. I actually really like that idea. If I could find a plan for about $30/month that doesn’t have some stupid low usage cap or exhorbitant fees and taxes like the monthly cell phone plans do (seriously, it’s an extra $20/month here in Cali), I would spring for it. The only data-only plans I’m aware of are either expensive (about $40-50/month through the big 4), unreliable (Clear sounds like a great deal but gets a LOT of negative buzz on the ‘net), or excessively capped (straight talk, who apparently cut off your access if you have the nerve to download over 2 gigs in a month of their “unlimited” service). If the big 4 were to offer something that costs 25-50% less than their current offerings without completely gimping the service, I’d be all over it.

    • MagicJewball says:

      I am lucky enough to have a grandfathered plan with unlimited data and 60 minutes a month of voice. I never, ever approach the maximum.

    • jeadly says:

      We have to buy 1,500 minutes every month and average about 41 minutes used between two of us.

  13. kilpatds says:

    I wouldn’t (yet) consider a plan that didn’t support voice service at all. I would consider one that came with no minutes, where each minute was charged separately, like text messages are for those without text plans.

    Seriously, I don’t think I’ve crossed 100min/month ever.

  14. Aeirlys says:

    I’d love a data only plan, especially if I could pair it with a by-the-minute voice plan. In an average month, I use about 60 of the 500 voice minutes I pay for. I’m perfectly willing to pay more for faster, more reliable data if it means I don’t have to pay for 440 voice minutes I’ll never use.

  15. Joseph S Ragman says:

    Where was the option “who needs a data plan? I only use my cell phone to make phone calls … ?”

  16. Jawaka says:

    This will be great for the Twitter or TLDR society. People who actually like to have conversations on the phone will hate it however.

  17. Hartwig says:

    All it takes is for one of the top companies to offer a plan that is data only and you will see a lot of people switching. Though most people will not like the setup or call quality of the VOIP offerings. I already have switched to Google voice for my main number, free text messages and free visual voice mail. Something the providers like to charge extra for. Give me an unlimited data plan for 50 bucks a month with nothing else and i am happy.

  18. technoreaper says:

    What a STUPID article that pretends to be ahead of the curve, but really is just ignorant.

  19. buzz86us says:

    My kind of service would be data cards for $10 a GB with no expiration that keeps the phone active as long as you still have data.

  20. CubeRat says:

    This is what I wanted when I purchased my smartphone in January..I had to buy an unlimited voice/text plan too.

    I got my bill this weekend and I had only used 200 minutes, and that included one call to my brother for 90 minutes. LOL

  21. TuxMan says:

    Currently using and 4G HSPA+

    Ping times have been 400ms for the past few days. Up from a 100ms average.

    Can not depend on carrier data for 3rd party voip.

    Voip is not pleasant above 200ms latency.

  22. ThinkingBrian says:

    Well AT&T already had something good in this area with their AT&T GoPhone service for Smartphones which I purchased last November. It was 10 cents per minute, 20 cents per text and buy the data you need and while the data was costly, it was still a good service, but after one year of having it, they canceled it. That was a good way for may consumers to go, but AT&T can’t see that and nor can they see data-only plans now, not 24 months from now.

  23. mbz32190 says:

    I use maybe 30 minutes of voice minutes a month (out of my 500 anytime/free night/weekend minutes), at most. I ‘txt’ everyone and people that I really want to talk to (not a huge social butterfly to begin with), I do it in person. Even my boss sends me texts about schedule changes and things like that. Looking to switch to the T-Mobile $30 plan as soon as I can get a good deal on the 4G phone I want.

  24. Corinthos says:

    ATT used to have them. I owned a data only blackberry roughly 4 years ago. The plan was 5 dollars more a month on top of the data plan and voice was pay per use of 40 cents per minute.

  25. chucklebuck says:

    You can get such a plan with Ting wireless (a Sprint MVNO). The catch is, they don’t subsidize phones. But you can buy a Samsung Galaxy S II or other smartphone and just use data. And if you do happen to need minutes, they just bump you into the lowest minute plan (100 minutes, $3) automatically as soon as you use them.

  26. mmbb says:

    Willing to pay $65 (plus $10 fees and taxes) for a data-only 7GB plan.

    Currently pay $65 (plus $10 fees and taxes for 300 minutes, 400 texts, and 5GB (throttled, no overage) on T-Mobile.

  27. djdanska says:

    I have a $30 prepaid sim with t-mobile that has 100 minutes, unlimited text and 5gb of 4g data, then throttling. I use it when my postpaid plan (which has 10gb of data) maxes out. Very helpful. ( i am always traveling so data adds up quick!)

  28. human_shield says:

    How about a smaller texting plan? I’m pretty tired of getting ripped off for texting, since I NEED it for work and I can’t get rid of it. I don’t need unlimited texting. 200 a month would be fine. Heck, 100 a month. $5. They used to have these plans, but now I have to pay $30 for unlimited texting. BS.

    • chucklebuck says:

      I don’t want to sound like a shill for Ting, but with Ting you can get a phone & use nothing but texting if you want. $3 for 100, $8 for 1000. Uses Sprint’s network, which isn’t the best for data, but is fine for texting.

      • sth9669 says:

        Or sign up for Google Voice. Then you can send and receive texts for free and it looks like email on your android phone. . .

        • chucklebuck says:

          True, if you have a smartphone, you can download any number of apps/use Google Voice. Sadly, the major carriers probably will make you have some level of text plan anyway.

  29. CrazyEyed says:

    Guarantee the phone companies tossed this story into the mix to develop interest. Little do people know, there’s already data-only plans through tablets like the Xoom and Hotspots.

  30. gedster314 says:

    I already use a data plan only. I’m not a big phone talker. I have Skype out and a Skype number for phone usage. I leave skype running in the back ground all day. I was toying with the idea of getting a dual sim adapter and just have a second prepaid phone sim for the occasional call but Skype has been working fine for me.

    If I used more then 200 minutes a month, I would get a conventional plan.

  31. Moniker Preferred says:

    “When was the last time you saw someone under the age of 21 willingly make a phone call when texting or e-mailing was an option?”

    When one is actually trying to communicate something more complex than “lol”, voice is the way to go. The youth of today is more than willing to spend 15 minutes exchanging texts when they could complete the entire exchange in 1 minute with a voice call. Eventually, the children will grow up (hopefully) into people who require real communications.

    BTW, it’s all just data. “Voice” means you speak with your mouth and listen with your ear. Call it “minutes”, or bundle it into a “data plan” if you want, but it’s really all about the providers figuring out the most efficient ways separate you from your cash.

    • Moniker Preferred says:

      Follow up:

      Email? Useful. Today’s equivalent of writing a letter (look it up).

      Texts? Somewhere between a convenience for very short messages and a children’s toy.

    • Southern says:

      My daughter wouldn’t be able to talk to just one person at a time (with voice) – she’s always texting about 20 different people simultaneously. :)

  32. lettucefactory says:

    No. I text or email whenever I possibly can – but when one of my kids is sick, the school nurse is going to call me. And since I spend a lot of my workday in meetings or otherwise away from my desk, I very much prefer if she calls my cell phone. Same goes for my husband if we are trying to work out daycare pickup times, etc. I know VoIP exists, but it isn’t as reliable as I’d like, given that if I am making a call, that means it is a time crunch and I need to make contact now.

    Voice service is pretty much a must-have at this phase in my life. But if I was 20 years old and childless? I’d be tempted to live without it.

  33. callenjr says:

    It surprises me how many mobile phone users don’t ever utilize the wifi feature. My of my friends sit around burning up their data plan while under a wifi blanket. If more people would set their phone to use wifi when available their respective data plans would become less meaningful. I can make voip calls at work, home, and even the neighborhood bar. Except for being in the vehicle, very few people except those who work outdoors would need a huge amount of minutes if they tried this option.

  34. jnl says:

    I doubt that the doctor’s office will be texting you about appointments nor calling you about your lab results. Your local mechanic won’t be texting either nor any business that needs to get in touch with you for any reason. There will always be room for voice over the telephone/cell phone. AND, you going to text 911 saying that someone just broke into your house with a gun? No time for that!

  35. aleck says:

    I can drop cable service and use cable company just for the data, so that I can stream the same shows. So, I don’t see why I should not be able to do the same with my phone and get VOIP.

    VZ, the Death Star, et al will resist, but it is a just matter of time. Wireless data will become commodity, just like cable internet has become by now.

    The youngsters may not recall this, but 20 years ago voice phone call overseas cost about $1-$5 a minute. Sounds ridiculous now.

  36. redwall_hp says:

    Voice and SMS are data. It should all be counted as the same, and priced nowhere near as high as it is now. AT&T is charging $10 per gigabyte. Ten dollars! I’ve never seen a hosting company or CDN charge more than $0.30 per gigabyte for data transfer.

    • buzz86us says:

      I wish they would do so for prepaid $25 for a gb is highway robbery! I am always near wifi but sometimes I just need GPS for directions or to look something up.

    • buzz86us says:

      I wish they would do so for prepaid $25 for a gb is highway robbery! I am always near wifi but sometimes I just need GPS for directions or to look something up.

  37. Kman says:

    I’d prefer to have a voice only option for a smartphone since I’m almost always near a wireless signal. I hate paying $30 a month for something I hardly use.

  38. He says:

    I would like a voice only plan. I hate text messages and only use data on rare occasions. Wifi is almost everywhere I need data.

  39. DanKelley98 says:

    The thing is, be it a voice call or text messaging or sufing the web, its all data being exchanged through their towers. Voice is converted to digital audio once you speak into the phone. And that’s zeros and ones just like a text message.

  40. wkm001 says:

    VOIP services are not data devouring. They don’t use much more data than streaming Pandora. I can do that for hours on end and never use more than 200-300 megabytes. I NEVER talk for more than 300 minutes per month.

    But now we get into network neutrality. If carriers cripple VOIP packets over data call quality will be terrible, forcing us to keep their voice services. There are already plenty of SIP providers out there, we just need some good software on our phones to make use of it.

  41. backinpgh says:

    I think they should switch from being primarily voice plus data to primarily data plus voice. Pay a flat fee for your data, then voice minutes are an add-on, instead of the other way around.

  42. blueman says:

    Sure, someday they’ll give you a data-only plan. But it will cost the same as your combined plan today. You think they’re going to give up that cash cow?

  43. Rocky says:

    I have an amazing news flash that you need to hear about. It’s a mobile company called Ting, that is a reseller of the Sprint network (like Boost, Virgin Mobile, etc.). It’s $6 just to have the phone active, but then you pay reasonable rates for only what you actually use of minutes, texts, or data. If you don’t use your phone at all, you pay just the $6 for that month. If you just use data and make no voice calls or texts, you don’t pay for any minutes or texts for that month. Shocking, huh?