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AT&T chief sees data-only phone plans as inevitable

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AT&T's CEO Randall Stephenson is finally seeing the writing on the wall, stating on Friday that data-only smartphone plans are "likely to arrive" in the next two years. "I'll be surprised if, in the next 24 months, we don't see people in the market place with data-only plans," noted Stephenson. "I just think that's inevitable."

Stephenson now feels that the company may need to begin offering data-only plans in order to compete with other cellular providers. The change is due to a shift from traditional voice cell network usage towards VoIP solutions like Skype and non-text messaging solutions such as Apple's iMessage. Scoople has a current poll that is showing a full 46 percent of respondents saying that they'd go for a data-only plan.

AT&T has been working on a shared data plan for families, which would presumably provide a slight discount for multi-device households. However, that plan could reduce the bottom line for AT&T. Stephenson cited an upcoming experiment in which content providers will be charged for the data used to access their websites, thus subsidizing users. That idea has the downside of giving large, well-heeled sites the advantage in mobile access while placing startup sites at a disadvantage.

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