Verizon Does Data, Can VoIP Be Far Behind?

Well, that didn’t take long. It was barely a week ago that I blogged about AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson predicting that cell phone companies will soon be offering data-only plans – a direct reflection of the growth of the use of VoIP over those phone, as part of an overall wireless data explosion, particularly as true 4G cellular broadband comes into play with the proliferation of LTE.

Well last week Stephenson said it would happen within two years. As it turns out, it didn’t even take two weeks. As has been widely reported, Verizon is dropping its metered voice and texting plans, replacing them with data plans that, almost as an afterthought, offer unlimited voice and text. Why do I think that Stephenson’s spies at Verizon (surely he has them) had clued him in? And why do I think that now it’s only a matter of time – and probably not very much time – until AT&T announces a similar move of its own?

For those who want to get picky, and point out that Verizon didn’t move to a pure data-only philosophy, all I can say is: Of course not. We’re just at the beginning of the era when VoIP over cell phones becomes common. Not many people have devices that can use LTE, after all, and even for those who do coverage is limited. So of course the cell companies will still offer standard cellular voice – but it becomes unmetered and used less and less as VoIP takes over. As I’ve said before, your data-based smart phone will become an extension on a Phone.com virtual PBX. And so will your laptop. And your tablet PC, and your iPad.

An interesting sidelight is the issue of international long distance. While Verizon and AT&T may cough up unlimited calls via legacy cellular technology, at least for now they’re still going to be charging pretty hefty rates for international long distance. $1 or $2 per minute is not uncommon. Contrast that to Phone.com charges for similar calls of zero, to landlines, and perhaps a dime to international cell phones.

That gives the cellular companies a strong incentive to try to slow down the adoption of VoIP over LTE for as long as possible, so they can still reap those long distance revenues. But the writing is on the wall for that issue too, because there’s no reason a standard cell phone call can’t be terminated at a VoIP switch. For instance, use your cell phone to call your virtual PBX, and then the outgoing international call can become a free VoIP call. Indeed one of my children who lives overseas has just switched to a cellular carrier that is doing just that, and offering no extra charge cell calls to the U.S. and various other countries.

Stuart Zipper is currently a contributing editor to Communications Technology, a high tech business journalism consultant and freelancer, and the past Senior Editor of TelecomWeb news break.