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A phone plan without phone calls? T-Mobile's got one

Simple Choice Data Only plans cut out voice service. Instead, subscribers text, or they use an app like Skype to make phone calls.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
3 min read

T-Mobile already offers data-only plans that are geared toward the deaf and hard of hearing.

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Would you sign up for a phone plan that doesn't include talking on the phone?

Some people already do, as made clear by a leaked document concerning T-Mobile data-only plans.

According to reports earlier this week that were based on the document, T-Mobile was set to introduce Simple Choice Data Only plans on Wednesday. The plans would come without the usual voice service, so subscribers would rely on texting to communicate, or, if they wanted to make a voice call, they'd use their phone with an Internet-based calling app like Skype or Whatsapp.

It's tempting to see the plans -- through the lens of the leaked doc -- as a bet by T-Mobile that millennials and others are using their phones less for phone calls and more for texting, apps and Web surfing. Under this scenario, the launch of the plans would be the latest bold move by T-Mobile to shake up the mobile-phone market as the Bellevue, Washington-based company battles to retain existing customers and lure new ones from Verizon, AT&T and Sprint.

It turns out, though, that the plans have been available for some time.

A T-Mobile spokesman told CNET that the plans have been around for several years and are geared toward the deaf and hard of hearing. T-Mobile hasn't broadly publicized them, the spokesman said, because it's a niche market. The plans are available to anyone, so now that you know about them, if you're interested you can ask a T-Mobile sales rep to sign you up.

The document, which the spokesman confirmed was legit, shows that the plans come in six varieties:

  • 2 gigabytes of data for $20 per month
  • 6GB for $35 per month
  • 10GB for $50 per month
  • 14GB for $65 per month
  • 18GB for $80 per month
  • 22GB for $95 per month

The plans, which include unlimited texting, are available only for GSM phones, such as those used with AT&T and T-Mobile. BlackBerry owners need to have version 10 of the operating system installed or use a Priv device, which runs Android instead.

The spokesman said the leaked document has to do with an increase in how much data is offered by the plans, a change that goes into effect Wednesday to bring the plans in line, data-wise, with other plans offered by the carrier. Unclear wording led to the confusion.

The plans aren't publicized on T-Mobile's website, the spokesman said, but salespeople at T-Mobile retail outlets and at T-Mobile retailers like Best Buy know about them and can offer them to customers who seem like a good fit. (The plans also get a brief mention in T-Mobile's accessibility policy, under "offerings for persons with disabilities.")

Would T-Mobile consider marketing the plans more widely, to snag interested millennials?

The spokesman said capitalizing on a trend wasn't the strategic intent behind the plans but that the company is always looking at how usage is changing and always listening to customer requests to determine its next move. Most customers still want the option of voice minutes, he said. If customers start asking for data-only plans, sure, T-Mobile might put more marketing muscle behind them.

Correction, 12:20 p.m. PT: The original version of this story mischaracterized the plans. It's been updated throughout based on information from T-Mobile.