The data-only future has been predicted for many years, with the rise of Skype and other similar VOIP applications. But in most cases, carriers tried to hold these apps from gaining popularity, because they were still making a lot of money from Voice and SMS, services that are priced at something like 1000x the cost of sending data through the network. Carriers can maintain such prices because there isn't any real competition from disruptive players, all carriers being perfectly content with overcharging their customers at blistering rates.
But now we're seeing more people move to data-based applications and away from SMS and Voice, and the carriers are starting to see the writing on the wall: eventually, they won't be able to make that much money from Voice and SMS. Randall Stephenson, the CEO of AT&T, can already see it:
“I’ll be surprised if, in the next 24 months, we don’t see people in the market place with data-only plans. I just think that’s inevitable.”
Why two years? Because of the competition from data-based applications, and because that should give carriers enough time to deploy LTE in most areas in the country. LTE is still in its early days, and we're already seeing super-fast connections. We're going to see it evolve even more over the next few years, which should make it easier and cheaper for carriers to turn a profit, while providing customers a good service. Of course, that still depends on how willing they are to invest into that future. If they're going to drag their feet, their services will not be so good, and they will lose revenues in the future.
In a future where LTE is the main network technology for all carriers, we should see higher interoperability between their networks, thanks in part to integrated modems that feature all frequencies, like Qualcomm's chips and Nvidia's Icera. We should also see higher quality voice with VoLTE, and, of course, all around better Internet connections for everything.
I just hope that, in the process carriers will respect the principles of net neutrality (although wireless carriers are not really bound to them, only regular ISPs are) and they don't try to play favorites with certain applications, especially their own.
Have you ever considered going data-only?