Today, long-winded talkers need to worry about running out of minutes on their cellphone plans. But someday there will be no minutes to run out of — just megabytes.
Wireless carriers now funnel voice and data traffic over two separate networks and charge customers accordingly. In the not-so-distant future, analysts and industry executives say, all mobile services, including text messages and voice and video calls, will travel over data networks.
Microsoft’s recent $8.5 billion deal to buy Skype, the Internet calling service, could accelerate this change — one that is forcing wireless carriers to adapt. Services like Skype can cut into the carriers’ revenues because they offer easy ways to make phone calls, videoconference and send messages free over the Internet, encroaching on the ways that phone companies have traditionally made money.
The telecommunications industry is already in a state of flux as more people disconnect their home telephone lines in favor of cellphones. Now the wireless carriers are looking for new ways to make money based on mobile broadband and applications, rather than voice minutes.
“Eventually, everything migrates to a data channel,” said Brian Higgins, an executive at Verizon Wireless who is developing products and services for the company’s high-speed 4G network. “We’re moving away from silos of communication to one where everything is combined together.”