The evolution of the mobile phone has taken place over the past two decades. But it is only in the last few years that they have truly permeated our popular culture and come to assume the roles of miniature PCs rather than devices whose sole purpose is to make calls. There’s little doubt that this revolution was kick started by the iPhone even though there were many touchscreen devices that existed well before it. Though the iPhone had many limitations at the time, it opened the floodgates to innovation and the market is now replete with powerful mobile smart phones that outstrip the capabilities of many PCs just a few years ago.
One of the legacies of the old way of thinking however is the continued dominance of voice-based minutes that come bundled with every smartphone that is sold under contract. In fact, the contract system itself is a relic of an outmoded way of thinking that shackles users to their phones and provides disincentives for carriers to allow upgrades of software on them. True liberation will only arrive when users are able to migrate to data only plans without having to purchase voice minutes that they don’t use. Fortunately, this industry model might be changing within the next couple of years.
Though telecom carriers have been hesitant about offering data only plans, even they can see the direction in which technology is heading. If they don’t step up to the plate and provide customers with their own offerings, they will find themselves overrun by someone who does. This is not because people are talking less on their phones. Far from it. What is changing however is that users are rapidly switching over to Internet-based communications like VoIP instead. While this offers the same features of the traditional PSTN system, it goes beyond and provides users with a truly comprehensive communication experience. And since all voice travels as data, the underlying network is indifferent to the type of traffic that passes over it.
The CEO of AT&T has gone on record stating that he fully expects data only plans to emerge soon. He didn’t say however that his own company would be offering them, though perhaps that was implied. The only fly in the ointment is the continuing clampdown on data consumption by carriers via data caps. Even here, technology has proven to outstrip its limitations and users are rapidly switching to Wi-Fi-based networks to carry the extra load that their applications are increasingly likely to consume. After all, what is the use of a huge screen and a high density if you cannot watch your favorite shows on them?
Once data only plans emerge, it’s only a matter of time before the shift to them accelerates and voice minutes are quickly outmoded and relegated to the status of technological artifacts.