Wireless Carriers May Adopt Flat Rate Voice Plans


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If you've ever tried to figure out which of your wireless carrier's plans is the best fit for your needs, then you know that it can sometimes be a pain. Carriers like Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint often have a wide array of plans that, when you get right down to it, aren't actually all that different except for a few details - how many minutes you get per month, how many texts, how much data. It can all be rather daunting.

Picking a voice plan may be about to get simpler, though. According to a report today in the Wall Street Journal, some carriers may be exploring the possibility of replacing their countless varied voice plans with one flat rate for unlimited calling. At first glance, this seems like a great idea: no more confusing charts telling you how many minutes you get per month under a certain plain. That's a good thing, right?

Maybe not. Think of it this way: if you're a smartphone user - especially if you're a smartphone user under the age of, say, 35 - when was the last time you used your phone to make a call? How do you prefer to communicate? Talking on the phone? Texting? Email? Skype? The fact of the matter is that smartphone users these days are relying far more heavily on texting and their wireless data connections than on their voice plan. Consequently, most are making the voice portion of their mobile phone bill as small as they can by reducing the amount of minutes they pay for. That, it seems, doesn't sit too well with the carriers. Switching to a flat rate voice plan allows the carriers to lock all their customers into paying the same (possibly inflated) price for a service they may or may not use.

For some people - those who use their voice plans heavily - this will no doubt be a good thing, as the unlimited plan will likely be cheaper than what they were paying before. Those who use their phone's voice capabilities less (or not at all), though, will be stuck paying more than they used to for a service they don't really need. In effect, the customers who get a price hike are paying for the minutes used by those who are getting a price cut.

What's really interesting about that is that's precisely the argument that the carriers used when they moved away from unlimited data plans: they claimed they didn't want the customers who used less data subsidizing those who used more. So what's the difference? The difference is that voice is the carriers' cash cow. It's been the primary revenue stream of the mobile carriers for years. By moving to an unlimited voice plan, they prevent users who don't talk on their phones often from downgrading to a plan that best suits their needs. Instead they make them pay more, so they can keep the cash cow alive.

When asked for comment, Verizon replied simply that "we don't comment on rumors."
Neither Sprint nor AT&T have responded to requests for comment.