Verizon Wireless, AT&T, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular (yes, it just announced this afternoon) proved it this week when they all unleashed unlimited voice plans for $99 per month. It's a service that we all just expect to have at our disposal. The real epiphany will occur, however, when the carriers come to the same realization about wireless data.Many already consider voice to be a commodity. With plans offering customers buckets of talk time ranging from 450 to 2,000 minutes per month, it's hard to argue that it isn't. This week's announcements put the matter to rest. Voice is now just voice. There's nothing the carriers can do to make it any better or special than its competitors. There's no further way to dress it up. Everyone already offers call forwarding, voice mail, call waiting, and so on. Going unlimited is the only way to differentiate. And now that everyone has gone unlimited, that's it. Done deal. Commoditization has occurred.
Of course, the entire wireless industry is still waiting with bated breath on word from Sprint. Will it join its competitors in offering unlimited voice services, too? Analysts seem to think so. In fact, they think Sprint will undercut the industry with much cheaper unlimited plans, costing $60 for all-you-can-eat talking, compared with $99. Whatever the price point Sprint decides upon, it already has been trialling an unlimited service in four test markets. Its plan, however, bundles in free messaging and Internet data. The trials have been under way for months now. Too bad for Sprint that Verizon pulled a brilliant strategic move and beat it out of the gate.
Now that the carriers have commoditized half of their businesses model, what about data? It's already happening. Carriers already offer unlimited data plans. Sure, many force you to go through their respective decks. But with the trend toward "open" networks (whatever that turns out to really mean), people will be going off deck for content more and more. Eventually, most content will be consumed off deck, and the carriers will simply be the bit pipes necessary to reach it.