AT&T’s announcement last week that it would only be offering unlimited talk for all new smartphone users marks the definitive end of an era. While the US’s other major carriers, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile abandoned limited-minute plans for new customers some time ago, AT&T was the final big player to abandon the pricing paradigm.
It’s not a sense of largesse from the cellular carriers that has pushed the drive for unlimited voice calling, it merely reflects the market, voice calling has been declining precipitously, replaced by mobile data, in the form of texting and internet access, where customers used to make voice calls. The upcoming generation, raised in the era of the smartphone use text as their primary means of communication, reserving voice calls for only their closest friends and relatives. There has been a widespread reduction in actual minute usage, and customers have been reducing their mobile contracts accordingly.
While the move to unlimited voice is in effect locking in a fixed, though invisible to the consumer, price point for voice services, new technologies such as voice over LTE or VoLTE is on the horizon that will essentially make all mobile phone calls into data streams, and will allow the industry to recapture the pay per bit model they crave and will eventually allow them to recapture the valuable over the air channels that are currently dedicated to voice traffic.
This latest acknowledgment by carriers, following development of cross-platform operating systems like Windows 8, shows that Fortune 500 companies are finally ready to admit “mobile phones” are essentially computers that just happen to fit in your pocket, rather than telephones with some data capabilities.
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