AT&T to Offer Family Mobile Data Plans in August 2012

AT&T is introducing family mobile data plans, as expected, starting in late August 2012. As Verizon Wireless already has done, AT&T is executing a bit of a historic shift in retail packaging.

Where once it was voice and texting services that were offered on a usage basis, now under both Verizon Wireless and AT&T plans, both domestic texting and voice services are unlimited and usage insensitive.

Instead, it is mobile broadband that becomes the primary usage-sensitive service, using the same “bucket of use” concept long used for voice and text messaging services.

That shift reflects the historic shift of revenue opportunities within the mobile and fixed network businesses. For starters, there now are growing numbers of over the top voice and messaging options that do not require purchase of a “voice” or “texting” plan from a service provider. That means voice and messaging revenue is going to decline, over time.

Also, as consumers shift their communications patterns from voice to text and other Internet mechanisms, actual consumption of voice is declining. Overall time spent using voice communications, for example,  fell by five percent in 2011, Ofcom, the U.K. communications regulator, reports. “This reflects a 10 percent fall in the volume of calls from landlines, and for the first time ever, a fall in the volume of mobile calls (by just over one percent, in 2011.”

In other words, for the first time ever, fewer phone calls are being made on both fixed and mobile phones, Ofcom reports.

At the same time, where usage of voice is flat to declining, usage of bandwidth is climbing as much as 50 percent a year.

Under such circumstances, capital investment increasingly is dictated by broadband products, not voice or messaging, so revenue recognition also must shift to match the drivers of capital investment, as well.

As was the case for family plans for voice and data, the new plans will, over time, lead to accounts adding more revenue-generating devices. For the new Verizon and AT&T plans, that will mean more data devices to be added to plans, especially tablets. But the new plans also will encourage users to convert to smart phones as well.

The actual revenue impact will be hard to discern, at first, as the plans are constructed in ways that make them revenue neutral, for the most part. Only over time, as more mobile broadband cards and tablets get connected will the changes in data revenues be clearly seen.

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