Wireless Companies Hope To Cash In By Pushing Everyone Into Unlimited Voice Plans

Since the iPhone ushered in the smartphone era in 2007, the average wireless subscriber is making fewer and shorter voice calls — resulting in a nearly 20% drop in average monthly minutes. But rather than give consumers the option to dial-down to smaller-tier voice plans, the titans of wireless are looking to give everyone an unlimited amount of talk.

The Wall Street Journal reports that voice plans currently account for about 2/3 of a wireless customer’s bill, even though customers are turning more frequently to data, texting and messaging services for their communication needs.

So rather than lose revenue by allowing customers to switch to voice plans with fewer minutes/month, the carriers will eventually shift everyone into one monthly plan that covers any number of calls.

“The industry’s definitely moving towards unlimited,” AT&T Mobility Chief Executive Ralph de la Vega said in a recent interview. “Especially as more people adopt smartphones that have voice capabilities over the Internet, segmented voice plans will become less relevant.”

T-Mobile USA CEO Philipp Humm echoed this sentiment: “It’s more important to offer a complete solution to consumers which is really, truly unlimited… The new world is a completely unlimited, worry-free world.”

About 4 out of 5 T-Mobile customers are already on the unlimited talk plan, but we wonder how many of those people could be saving $30/month by switching to the company’s 500 minute plan.

Verizon Wireless’ VP for product development says, “There are limits to what you can do with the voice product… It makes sense to look at the pricing.”

Reps for all the major carriers tell the Journal that no final decision has been made about when a shift to unlimited-only could happen.

We recommend that you take a close look at your current wireless voice plan to see if you’re getting the most out of the minutes you are allotted each month. If you are under-utilizing It may be worth switching now to a lower-tier plan. At the very least, you’d save money until they switch everyone over to unlimited. At best, your less-expensive plan would be grandfathered in what switch does eventually occur.

Talking Less, Paying More for Voice [WSJ.com]


Edit Your Comment

  1. SerenityDan says:

    I have the lowest possible family plan on T-Mobile and only use maybe 1/4 of the minutes at most.

    • Lucky225 says:

      The lowest plan (at least in 2006, haven’t checked recently) is 19.99/month for 60 minutes/month. Assuming you’re on that, less then 15 minutes a month is hardly believable but more power to you if true.

      • jeb says:

        So much has changed since 2006, though. The lowest post-paid plan minutes is 500 minutes a month (though there’s the 100 minute $30 prepaid plan.)

  2. donjumpsuit says:

    In that case, I hope there is a plan (like texting) which allows you to forgo minutes all together. Then everytime you use your phone, it’s like 25 cents a minute. Right now I get the lowest minute plan (500) and it still costs $40. I would rather pay 25 cents a minute, as I doubt I would hit 160 minutes in any given month.

    • StarKillerX says:

      Why would you think they cost per minute to make calls would be so low if they were to offer a plan without minutes? A quick check of At&t’s individual plan shows that each minute over your allowance is billed at $0.45 /minute and I would think it would be even more if your plan included no minutes.

      • jeb says:

        The basic reason that the per-minute charge is so high is that they want you to have a bigger plan than necessary. While it’s crazy, I don’t know why they’d go higher than that.

        Plus, with so few minutes being used, why not find a prepaid solution that works for you?

  3. TheOnlyBob says:

    Unlimited voice when people don’t make voice calls. And forced limited data for everyone that uses data for everything. Something seems wrong with this picture.

    • Blueskylaw says:

      1). Low minutes, low data
      2). High minutes, low data
      3). Low data, high minutes

      And my educated guess for the future
      4). Low data, low minutes

  4. CrazyEyed says:

    Unlimited voice is just a marketing ploy to disguise increasing data rates. As more people purchase smart phones, the providers will continuously tinker with the tiered data plans until you are absolutely raped by your data plan.

  5. Important Business Man (Formerly Will Print T-shirts For Food) says:

    iPhone + Straight Talk still = Winning.

    • incident_man says:

      No store to go to if you have a problem + only web or phone-based support that is outsourced = Losing.

      • Important Business Man (Formerly Will Print T-shirts For Food) says:

        How many times have you really had to contact customer support?

        For me, the answer is 1. To replace my SIM card when I switched to iPhone and their SIM card program.

        Maybe I’m lucky to never have cell phone issues with the carrier. Any issues I have ever had was my own fault (dropping the phone from the third floor balcony, etc) which I can fix without customer support. I save over $600 a year just by having Straight Talk. To me, its worth it, even if I have to deal with hearing bad English every once in a while. I’d rather get email support anyway.

      • JohnDeere says:

        going to a store for anything but food = losing

      • scottboone says:

        Yeah, because we AT&T customers get *stellar* support from them. Riiiiiiight.

        I just have gone through nearly a month and half of phone calls trying to convince AT&T of bad equipment on the tower near my home. Voice quality would be unusable on about 20% of calls. Of course, once you were “affinity’d” to the bad channel, that goes to 70%. 3 minute conversations where you sound like a garbled robot to the other end. Took 3 weeks for AT&T just to finally get out of “reset your network settings”/”have you rebooted your phone” script. Last week they finally say they’re “doing upgrades in my area which should be completed by the end of NEXT month”. Never ONCE an offer of credit for either the crap-ass service OR my time trying to get them to have an engineer look at THEIR faulty network. Not even a zero-cost apology.

        So yeah, crappy support from Straight Talk is looking to have about as much value TO ME as AT&T’s support. Worthless is worthless.

  6. Lightweight says:

    It’s interesting how the “completely unlimited, worry-free world” that we are evidently moving towards doesn’t include data plans, but totally includes voice plans. It’s almost like the wireless companies are trying to spin a money-grabbing maneuver as a customer benefit.

  7. Blueskylaw says:

    So wireless companies tried to push people into using more text and messaging because it was more profitable; now they are surprised that they aren’t making as much money on voice?
    It’s really funny to see how corporations try to push certain services that make them more money and then when other services don’t make as much money they try to tweek those too.

    It’s also funny to read what T-Mobile USA CEO Philipp Humm said: “It’s more important to offer a complete solution to consumers which is really, truly unlimited.” He is therefore implying that what carriers offered before wasn’t truly unlimited despite what those full page ads said.

    • nybiker says:

      It’s not only the telco’s doing that. The Water folks here in NYC are doing the same thing. Conserve, Conserve they keep telling us. So, we use less water but they still keep jacking up the rates (they are still building water tunnel # 3). They even have the gall to charge us a minimum usage amount, so even if you don’t use a drop of water during the 3-month billing period, you still get a bill. And don’t forget, it’s not only about the water you use, but the sewage bill is a function (as in 1.59 times) of the water bill. So, no water used, get a min bill. Then 1.59 times that gets you your sewage bill. Add the 2 and you now have your NYC Water bill.
      There are only 2 people in my house, and at least 3 times out of the 4 bills I get every year, it’s the minimum usage amount.
      /end of rant against the NYC DEP folks. Thanks for listening.

  8. Stickdude says:

    “It’s more important to offer a complete solution to consumers which is really, truly unlimited… The new world is a completely unlimited, worry-free world.”

    Um, except for data… Which is what people use the most now.

    But kudos for at least pretending to be responsive to your customers.

  9. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    I can’t think of any other industry where the consumer and the provider are so at odds with each other in terms of what they want.

    It seems as if whatever customers want, phone providers seem hell bent on specifically doing the exact opposite.

    Customers are asking for: low minutes, unlimited texts, and unlimited data with no throttling.

    Providers are giving them: high-volume minutes, 1000%+ inflated text pricing, and limited data with throttling.

    • crazydavythe1st says:

      It’s amazing too, since the commodity in short supply is spectrum. If they can argue that there are technical reasons to restrict data usage, those same limitations should apply to voice usage. They are just taking advantage of the fact that most people are reducing their voice usage as a side-effect of the dozens of other ways to communicate these days.

      If everyone actually started using the unlimited voice minutes they would be requiring you to buy, it would bring their network to its knees.

    • ajl1239 says:

      This is a ‘uniquely American’ perversion. See my comment below re: UK and other comments re: Canada and Sweden.

      Wireless companies are about as evil as health insurers…almost.

  10. Lyn Torden says:

    What about hearing impaired and speaking impaired people? Isn’t this discrimination?

    • frank64 says:

      Wow, we can play the discrimination card for just about anything.

      • silenthands says:

        It’s not so much discrimination – but definitely sleazy. I won’t pay to use the “voice” function on my phone when I can’t use it. (I’m deaf) Consequently I pay $33 a month to Sprint for their relay program, which provides for “unlimited” data and texting with the option of voice calls for – I think it’s 20 cents a minute. I’m not sure on that last point because I only ever used it for a total of 3 minutes the first year I had it, when I asked a passersby to call my Dad to let him know I was stranded on the side of the road. I’ve been on that plan for 3 years now. Suits me all right. If they drop that and force everyone to purchase voice minutes – I will have a FIT.

        • frank64 says:

          I bet they will keep that option for you, I just don’t think they would need to alter their main product offerings for one protected group when there would be other ways to address those concerns.

  11. HenryES says:

    We have the lowest amount of minutes on AT&T, but with 3000+ rollover minutes, It’s essentially unlimited for us. If they did force us into unlimited, I’d finally get rid of the landline,since the only reason I keep it is for when I’m on a long conference call when I work from home.

  12. PunditGuy says:

    Now we just need a protocol for sending data over voice calls — modems for the cellular age. Some brain trust needs to hop on that, stat.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Agreed – if we get it so that both data and voice can be send of both data voice (i.e. interchangeable) then the phone companies might finally just give up.

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      About 15 years ago, I used to do that with my work cell phone. It was a Qualcomm, brick sized cell phone that I was able to use as a modem and connect to my dial up provider. It was incredibly slow and unstable but it did work reasonably well — Good enough for email, at least.

  13. MutantMonkey says:

    Keep your voice plan, I want data.

    Where is Meek when you need him?

  14. 2 Replies says:

    Unless they either switch over to true unlimited data (limited only by hardware) or give unlimited talk for free, they’ll never get me to let go of my grandfathered plan.

  15. guspaz says:

    Huh? The US is supposed to have better plans than Canada, but here, Fido will charge you $35/mth for unlimited voice and text… That would be 50% of my plan ($10 for visual voicemail and such, $30 for 6GB data), except I downgraded to 2000 minutes and unlimited text for $30. 2000 is effectively unlimited for me.

  16. ColoradoShark says:

    Sarcasm warning:
    How very generous of the wireless companies to want to give unlimited talk time when I don’t use very much talk time.

  17. Browsing says:

    I really don’t understand why mobile costs are so expensive in the US. I bought my my phone outright here in Sweden and pay around 10-15 a month for 1gb of data (after 1gb slowed), unlimited text in my carrier and instead of minutes, whoever calls pays, if I am called it’s free, if I call someone in network I pay a flagfall and then can talk however long I want. A lot cheaper than most plans in the US.

    • Evil_Otto would rather pay taxes than make someone else rich says:

      They’re so expensive because the carriers know that the competition is charging just as much. And that changing your carrier is difficult due to long-term contracts. There’s very little pressure to drive costs down, so they don’t.

  18. miguelggarcia says:

    Another alternative: Virgin mobile. They’re well priced, with national coverage and relatively recent phones (they’ll get the iPhone 4s on July 1, for example).
    I love them.

  19. SPOON - now with Forkin attitude says:

    500/60 = more than 8 hours of time on the phone. I rarely spend more than 10 minutes a month on the phone. This is why I don’t have a contract phone and why you don’t need one either.

  20. j2.718ff says:

    so phones will have unlimited voice and “unlimited” data now.
    Or is that “unlimited” voice and “unlimited” data?

  21. maxamus2 says:

    I threw up a little bit when this article started by saying the iPhone ushered in the smartphone era…..

  22. giax says:

    I’ve got an iPhone, and I go with the cheapest pay as you go by AT&T, and usually carry the minutes over. $25 every 90 days.
    I rarely call… and most of the time I’m online anyway, so for those calls I might also use Skype.
    Besides, most people text, chat, email, Facebook etc rather than use voice. Thinking about it, about the only people I voice call are my mum and sister – and them I Skype.
    Unlimited voice? No thanks. Cheap data plans rather.

  23. dush says:

    “It’s more important to offer a complete solution to consumers which is really, truly unlimited”

    Truly unlimited 3G data for $30, truly unlimited 4G data for $40 sounds great.

  24. ferozadh says:

    Why even make the distinction between data and voice? It’s all digital anyway. Of course the service providers will try to milk this paradigm for as long as possible.

  25. who? says:

    I spent the last month travelling for work. Used my phone *a lot* more than I usually do. I still managed to stay within my 450 minute plan.

    Texts, however…I had to upgrade to unlimited texting. Fortunately, after 90 days, I can downgrade again.

    And data…I’m really glad I’m on an unlimited plan.

  26. daemonaquila says:

    For some people who really use very little time, this is not good news. But for people like me who make their cel phone their primary phone, I’m very happy with it. My work phone is a cel, and I long ago changed to unlimited.

    Now upgrade to unlimited DATA plans.

  27. Tarceinus says:

    If any compnay offered unlimited 3G data plans for Wifi hotspots or connection cards, they would instantly make me a customer for life.

  28. Jawaka says:

    Call me old fashioned but phones are still for talking on for me.

  29. HogwartsProfessor says:

    “It’s more important to offer a complete solution to consumers which is really, truly unlimited… The new world is a completely unlimited, worry-free world.”


    • ajl1239 says:

      Exactly — that’s the same garbage AT&T spewed when they forced everyone to take unlimited texts, because people were using FEWER texts.

      This is Big Brother corporate newspeak.

  30. ajl1239 says:

    Americans are getting ripped off — we are the only country where you get charged to RECEIVE a call or text — in Europe, Central America, you name it, you can use any phone for free just to receive calls or texts.

    Also, here in the UK, I pay 15 pounds/month (22-ish dollars) with NO contract on a smart phone for UNLIMITED data, 3,000 texts and 300 minutes, which is of course plenty of talk time since I don’t need to pay to receive phone calls.

    If I wanted to switch to another carrier, I could pay 10 pounds/month (15-ish dollars) for UNLIMITED data, UNLIMITED texts and 250 minutes.

    Americans are getting screwed — one way to fight back would be to abandon contract plans for pay-as-you go. In UK/Europe, you can top up your phone at the ATM, the convenience store, the self-checkout at the grocery store, online — anywhere. And you’re not a slave to the greedy idiots at AT&T on a contract.

    • jimbo831 says:

      I only wish this would happen here in the US, but I can promise it never will. The major telecoms are too entrenched. It will only get worse as eventually T-Mobile will disappear, and Sprint very well might too. The laws are way too in favor of these companies and no new companies are able to break in and change the mold.

  31. Eagle Eye says:

    I wonder what they’d say if consumers suddenly started consuming voice like crazy.. I guess we’d go back to “tiered” voice plans pretty quickly.