I remember a point in time when there were only two ways I communicated: face to face and though voice calls. Back then, voice calls, even to other wireless subscribers using the same provider, counted towards your monthly allotment.

Coming from a small town where literally everyone is friendly, locking the doors to your house isn’t necessary and everyone within a few miles are close family friends, my family usually opted to just save minutes and drop by someone’s house if we had a question or wanted to socialize.

Then I got my own cell phone with SMS. And from that moment, I’ve disliked talking over the phone.

I understand that I’m a bit more adverse to voice calls than your average Joe, but there’s a trend that started with the introduction of a host of alternative, mobile communication methods – SMS, instant messaging, email, video calls, etc. The more people that adopt smartphones with data connections, the less prevalent the traditional phone call becomes.

It was bound to happen. Opening the dialer and starting a voice conversation isn’t always the most efficient method of getting the point across or obtaining information. In our much busier lives, phone calls are actually a rather gauche way of getting in touch – it forces both parties to be free for a call at the same time, whereas instant messaging, email or SMS can be dealt with when it’s more convenient. Not to mention, phone calls can be awkward, tense, and unpleasant if you skip the traditional small talk (i.e.: “Hey, what’s up?” or “How are you?”).

chat-heads-apps
Voice calls get the job done, but now there are quicker, more efficient methods of communicating.

The voice call will never die altogether – not in this century. It still has a firmly cemented place in the realm of communication. But there are quicker, more efficient and more convenient means of staying in touch these days, and the phone call is much less of a staple in mobile technology than it has been in years past.

Over the last three years, reports have only confirmed this. The Phone Call Is Dead and Decline of the phone call are only two of the hundreds of headlines conveying the same message. Data and SMS are replacing the
archaic phone call.

And that leaves us with a very interesting question that has slowly started popping up around the world wide web: is it time we move away from voice networks?

The short answer is simply no.

There are too many consumers who still rely on 2G and 3G networks, both for data and voice. In fact, almost every last mobile subscriber still relies on older voice networks to perform voice calls. Only those who have adopted a third-party VoIP service can work with a data-only network. Not to mention, while the roll-out of data networks is picking up, there are still quite a few areas in the United States (and globally) without data-centric networks.

htc-first-speedtest
Voice networks can handle data, but it’s not what they were designed for. 4G networks are much more efficient for high-speed data.

But dependence on dedicated voice networks isn’t the only problem. By handling all voice calls over a data network would mean the same number of subscribers would use a lot more bandwidth – meaning much more congested airwaves – with the exact same usage.

The smartphone penetration in the U.S. is also only at 57 percent, meaning if voice networks were killed, even the most basic, non-smartphones would require LTE, which is … silly.

But pure VoIP is an eventuality, as is the extinction of voice networks.

The reason it hasn’t already happened is because wireless carriers are still making a solid chunk of change from straggling non-smartphone users. And it’s not something that can happen overnight. As newer technologies arrive, older ones will be gradually phased out. But there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes, such as how carriers intermingle and employ one another. It’s a lot more complicated than flipping a switch.

The less we rely on smartphones to place voice calls, however, the more we hear talk of data-only smartphones.

Currently, mobile subscribers are forced to purchase a base voice plan and pick a data plan. SMS is added if needed. The other scenario is that subscribers choose a data package and, for a base price, get unlimited minutes and text messages.

I, personally, do not use carrier SMS. I use iMessage, Google Voice, Google Talk, Facebook Messenger, Gmail and several other free messenger services. In the past year with AT&T, I have used only 1,103 minutes total. If I could, I would go data-only and save myself quite a bit of money.

chat-heads-landscape
Data-only, where consumers have more freedom over what they pay for, is the future.

Unfortunately, that’s not possible.

But there is a silver lining. AT&T’s Randall Stephenson spoke at an investor conference last June, saying he expects there will eventually be data-only plans within the next year or so. Not data-only in that a smartphone comes without voice or SMS capabilities, but where every type of usage is billed as a collective “data”. In other words, you purchase a data package for, say, 10GB. Every (VoIP) phone call, every SMS and every transferred byte transferred is subtracted from the total.

In other words, you pick a single package that should suit your needs for a month. If, for instance, you call less one month, you have more bits to use for SMS or data. Or if you need the extra data for a phone call, simply cut back your Web browsing, or flip on Wi-Fi more often.

It’s novel in that wireless customers will no longer be forced to pay for services they do not care to use and can effectively get more bang for their buck.

In the meantime, it appears voice networks are here to stay, at least until the last basic phone user upgrades to a smartphone, figuratively speaking.

No less, the obvious direction we’re headed is VoIP and the total elimination of the “minutes” metric. And believe us when we say it can’t get here soon enough.

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