T-Mobile Plan Could Be Beginning of the End for Cellphone Voice Service

(The Washington Post) -

T-Mobile has a reputation for making brash, industry-changing decisions like doing away with service contracts and offering to pay your early termination fees. Now it seems poised to launch another major experiment: Killing off voice service.

Leaked documents obtained by TmoNews appear to show T-Mobile preparing a set of new phone plans that offer mobile data and text messaging, but not cellular voice. The result could be that someday soon, you could walk into a T-Mobile store and come out with a phone plan that won’t actually let you make traditional phone calls.

What’s the point of a phone without phone service? Well, while cellphone service can certainly be a lifeline during emergency situations, such as when your car breaks down on the side of the road, most of us spend our time in more mundane environments, such as our homes or offices. In these places, wi-fi is king. More than half of all mobile internet traffic in 2015 actually traveled over wi-fi, according to Cisco, not cellular networks.

Even if you do require a voice connection from time to time, internet-based messaging and voice apps have really taken off in recent years and become a decent alternative. In some cases, the audio quality can be just as good, if not better. And you don’t need a dedicated voice line to support them, because they run on wi-fi or mobile data.

T-Mobile appears ready to bet that some consumers will gladly take that tradeoff, giving up redundant voice service for the extra data. It’s a moment that’s been coming for years, as wireless carriers have come to realize that selling mobile data, not voice minutes, is where the money increasingly lies.

How much more data might T-Mobile subscribers get with the rumored Data Only plans? A quick comparison with T-Mobile’s existing Simple Choice plans gives us the answer, which is about 8 GB.

Let’s take a closer look. Here’s the price structure of T-Mobile’s current Simple Choice plan, which includes voice, texts and data. A single phone line with 2 GB of monthly data sets you back $50. A plan with 6 GB of data costs $65. And you get 10 GB for $80.

Now compare that to the rumored Data Only plans, whose prices look like this, according to TmoNews.

2GB = $20

6GB = $35

10GB = $50

14GB = $65

18GB = $80

22GB = $95

Now to put it all together: For the same $50, you soon might be able to buy either A) voice + text + 2 GB of data; or B) text + 10 GB of data. That’s 8 extra gigabytes in your pocket, just for shedding voice service.

The same holds true at higher price points. Pay $65, and you can have either voice + text + 6 GB of data, or you can have text + 14 GB, which also represents a difference of 8 GB.

These prices are the same as what T-Mobile already charges customers who want to buy data-only plans for tablets, mobile hotspots and other connected devices. Now, it seems, T-Mobile may want to extend that offer to cellphones. It’ll be interesting to see if other carriers follow suit.

A T-Mobile spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.