For many smartphone users around the world, voice calling over the GSM or UMTS networks is declining in importance. It’s being replaced by a combination of VoIP (essentially, voice over network) calling technologies, such as Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts and WhatsApp for both voice and video calling functions. The humble text message is also starting to be replaced by instant messenger applications over the world. This benefits the network operators as modern data networks have a much higher capacity than older generation technologies – today’s LTE masts can handle more customers wanting higher data bandwidth than yesterday’s 3G masts. However, many smartphone plans today are sold with bundled minutes and text messages even if customers do not use them. The inference is that customers are still paying for these minutes and text messages, even if they do not want them.
There is a new mobile virtual network operator, Charge, which uses Sprint’s LTE technology and may be set to change things across the industry: the carrier only offers a data service and currently only over the LTE network. Voice calls and text messages are unavailable and cannot currently be added on to the service. This is the first time that a US carrier has offered a data connection smartphone plan without a ‘phone line, although Charge’s webpage implies tha the service can be used in tablets and mobile hotspots as well as smartphones. Those devices that support Sprint’s LTE network will work with Charge, which means devices such as the Nexus 5, Nexus 6 and the two latest, the 5X and 6P. Other devices such as the iPhone will also work on Charge’s plan.
As far as pricing goes, Charge is a prepay operator and plans start at $15 per gigabyte, although this drops to $13 if you buy three or more at once. Customers are currently being offered a deal whereby buying 5 GB nets them one more free. This data never expires, which is great for low users. Charge can also automatically top up if the customer wants, meaning the device should never run out of credit and therefore data. As for who this service could be used for? Anybody who simply needs a data connection without the complication of a ‘phone service too. It could be great for tablets and those of us on a budget with a Google Voice number, although it is unclear as to how WhatsApp could be set up without a working text messaging service.