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John Paul Cook

Smartphones and data plans

Smartphones can do a lot of useful things, but what do you really need to do when you don't have access to a wireless network? Would voice and text be enough when you're not at home, the office, Starbuck's, or a convention? I'd like to have a smartphone without a data plan. I'm willing to pay the full price of the phone and own it outright. I'd like to have the legal right with my smartphone to purchase as few or as many services as I want from any carrier. But this isn't possible today. If you want to use a smartphone, all of the major carriers require you to have a data plan. I don't need a data plan. If I really need to do something at home, at the office, or at school, I can use a secure wireless connection and do whatever I need.

Yes, a data plan can do more for me than wireless connections can. But I don't find the added convenience of a data plan worth the cost. The marginal utility just isn't enough. I contacted my U.S. senators and representative asking for consumer friendly legislation allowing smartphone owner (i.e., people who pay full price for a smartphone unsubsidized by the carrier) to purchase service without a data plan. Obviously, with one of the largest carriers headquartered in my state, that request for legislation is not going to go anywhere.

One of my young classmates in nursing school was baffled when I said cellphones hadn't been invented when I was dating. She asked how people could date without a cellphone. We did it without a data plan monthly expense.

How about you? Would you like a smartphone without a data plan, just text and voice? And while I'm asking questions, have you ever done any SQL Server administration from a smartphone?

Published Wednesday, April 25, 2012 9:07 AM by John Paul Cook

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Don said:

Amen!  I have a data plan, and it is handy.  However, I would prefer to just have my iPhone that provides voice and audio (podcast) services.  I don't feel the need for text service either.

Why would you feel that legislation is the answer?  

That part is just wrong.

April 25, 2012 10:18 AM

Denis Gobo said:

Remember, the carrier gives you the $600 phone for $200 or less, the recoup the cost by additional services and the data plan. Would you pay $600 for the phone if it came without a data plan, few people would

April 25, 2012 10:26 AM

a.m. said:

You can buy a phone without a plan on eBay. and then turn it on without a data plan. No legislation is needed. I know people who have done this.

April 25, 2012 10:37 AM

John Paul Cook said:

Don, the carriers won't unbundle data plans unless the government forces them to.

Dennis, I would pay the full $600 for a phone to avoid the data plan charges. I keep my electronic devices long enough that I'd come out ahead. I'd use a smartphone more if I wasn't worried about incurring data charges.

April 25, 2012 10:49 AM

Andy Yun said:

Coincidentally, Google just started selling their Galaxy Nexus  (GSM) independently of any carrier & fully unlocked.  You can pick that up for $400, then use your own SIM card tied to a data-plan-less carrier plan of your choosing.

April 25, 2012 10:54 AM

Peter said:

iPhones have an option to turn off all usage of cellular data plans, but when I tried to do that, AT&T forced a data plan on me. You may be shocked to hear this, but I think the prepaid carriers are the only way you can have a smartphone without paying for a data plan, then turn off data usage on the phone so you don't accidentally trip data charges.

April 25, 2012 11:02 AM

John Paul Cook said:

I tried getting service for my unlocked phone with Verizon, Sprint and AT&T. None would sell voice and text only. I did find one phone service salesperson who said he could enter an IMEI for a regular phone into the records so that the carrier would not realize that a smartphone was actually activated.

April 25, 2012 11:06 AM

a.m. said:

John, stop talking to the major carriers. There are other companies out there (e.g. MetroPCS) that you can negotiate with.

April 25, 2012 11:18 AM

Ted S said:

Try Republic Wireless if available for you

April 25, 2012 1:24 PM

Jon said:

+1 I really don't think it's worth $1200 for data.  All I want is a phone that's good for MAKING PHONE CALLS.  I recently looked up phones on consumer reports.  Not a single one had 'good' voice quality.

April 25, 2012 3:22 PM

alen said:

you used to be able to buy smartphones without data plans. the problem was that they would charge like $1 per megabyte or some ridiculous price. the reason blackberries and iphones became popular was the data plan was a flat fee

what you are describing is an ipod touch with a IP phone app. my iphone actually has my employer's IP phone app. if i turn it on it logs me out of my office phone and my iphone or ipad are now my office phones. lots of publicly available ones in the app store as well you can use for ipod touch

i remember work before smartphones and it sucked. i have my iphone and my employer's android phone i carry around. i use my iphone for almsot everything work related as well

i even have the HP iLO app on my iphone and ipad so that if needed be i can push the power button on a server from anywhere remotely

April 25, 2012 4:00 PM

Craig said:

You sound like the kind of guy that needs to be carrying around a flip phone.

Enter the AT&T Go Phone. My buddy pays about 15$ a month and has texting. I think he pays by the minute, he is a man of few words.

I would imagine you could get a plan similar to his with more minutes for a little more.

April 25, 2012 8:57 PM

Steve said:

I'm all about choices but this idea that the government should step in and make a private company set its services is very unsettling?  How would you feel if as a consultant the government said what services you could sell to your customers?  You cannot bundle your performance tuning services with a health check THE CUSTOMER NEEDS A CHOICE!  That would be ridiculous. The customer has a choice they can choose to not higher you.  You don't NEED and iPhone.  I don't like the data plan aspects of an iPhone so I have decided not to buy one.  Its that simple.

April 26, 2012 8:17 AM

Ranga said:

Well, all the wireless carriers want to make MORE they attach the data plan and all other junk. I kind of agree with John that we need a legislation that will seperate the services. You buy a phone, have a data plan from a carrier or choose not to have one, texting from a different one, voice from another etc. That is the way to go! Free market that supports consumer choices! Consider the TV here. IF Sony/Samsung etc say that we need to get the cable service from them, will it make sense ?

April 26, 2012 5:18 PM

mi kee said:

i actually heard recently on the radio news that the cellular companies are going to push everyone into smartphones.  just stroll into a store and checkout the selection.  i verified with the verizon rep that if you activate a smartphone they charge you for the data package.  if you feel you need cable tv, try turning off the non-local channels for a week and look at the tv guide.  calculate how much you actually watch the tube and once you cut the cord you will never go back.  i cannot justify paying to watch commercials.

i suspect that the cellular providers are going to throw ads on our smartphones at us eventually - another revenue source.

omg can you imagine being bombarded by political ads i am not looking forward to that.

has anyone checked out

April 30, 2012 5:13 PM

Paul Rayn said:

It is outrageous that phone companies require me to get a data plan even if i buy my own phone by paying the full price (unlocked and unsubsidized). It does not make any sense. They are forcing me to buy a product that I do not want to use. I have a handicapped friend who does not leave house but want to use an iPhone without getting the data plan. But he can't even if he buys the phone without contract for $650. The carriers are out of their mind to force customers on data plan by auto-detecting their phones using emei numbers.

April 30, 2012 9:35 PM

Charlotte said:

I was just emailed by AT&T wireless telling me they added a data plan to my service as they noticed that I have an iphone (that I purchased without a contract) and switched my sim card into it. I have been using it that way for about a year. Now they tell me I have to have the plan in order to use an iphone.  I called them and asked why this is and didn't get much of a response other than that is the way the plan works - which I don't think is fair as the person working for AT&T Wireless store is the one who told me to just buy the phone and switch my sim card into it if I didn't want the data plan..... Can't wait until my service agreement is up on the phones I have.

May 7, 2012 1:30 PM

Carol said:

I'm looking at getting about 4 different smart phones and 2 tablets for website testing purposes.  I don't intend on ever using them as phones, and we have our own wireless service.  If I buy unlocked phones and tablets, shouldn't they work on our wireless network without a data or cellular plan?  

August 20, 2012 3:19 PM

Bert said:

Only buy Android OS phones (2.3 or higher).  Turn the phone on without the sim you are going to use.  Go into the phone setup and disable all Cellular data options.  Replace the sim with your normal sim. Fire up the phone.  Now you have a feature phone with wifi and no data plan required.  AT&T's sweep cannot identify the phone correctly and leaves you alone.  Been running this way for 6 months and no data plan.  Got this procedure from Radio Shack.  It will be a sad day if they go out of business.

August 21, 2012 9:22 AM

Appaul Trakioo said:

I think it would be easier just to have the RFD chip installed under your skin.

September 7, 2012 10:25 AM

Doug said:

My understanding is that T-Mobile offers a data-plan opt out, though I think this carrier is mostly western United States.

I DEFINITELY do not agree with legislation being used to force product changes on private companies. If they want to run terrible business models, it should be their choice. If there were some environmental concern or something, I could understand, but just because you don't LIKE it? Well, then don't BUY it. Government force is not the answer.

October 1, 2012 1:09 PM

Jane said:

I DEFI NETLY  want government to protect my right. i should be able to use whatever smartphone i want with the service i want.   I do not understand why i need to give up on the smart phone if i do not wish/effort to pay data service.

Phone and service should be my choice, it should not be dictated by companies. If it is not government, who will protect my rights? Any idea..

October 7, 2012 12:04 AM

Liz said:

The government almost has to get involved.  The cell phone companies have us over a barrel.  We need the service and they are the only ones who provide it on a non-local level.  I only want a smart phone so I can use the apps available, the larger screen, make calls and the camera.  I do not need to text or access the internet when I am away from my wi-fi service.  We should be able to use our puchacases any way we chose if we paid in full for them. I don't feel I should have to waste my money on something I can do without, so my only choice right now is do without a smart phone which will eventually be forced on me when they stop making regular phones.

October 13, 2012 9:06 PM


I agree that we should be able to buy a smart phone with out buy a service we have know need for. and why should we have to pay so much for data or internet or some other service that we already pay for at home to use the internet or data, can afford to pay twice for the same thing.

October 24, 2012 8:26 PM

Dorothy said:

Does anyone know if AT&T will mandate the data plan if I buy a phone outright, AND my original smart phone and voice plan was purchased before the data plan mandate went into effect? I bought a replacement NOKIA E71x and have not been charged for data yet, but it is the same phone as originally purchased. My husband wants to get a better phone than his vue-will he be able to put his non data smart phone sim into a different smart phone with out getting automatically dataplanned?

The only phone AT&T will offer without a data plan is a touch screen slider that is impossible to answer. All we want is a hard key answer, a full featured address book and calendar with alarms, forget about angry birds.

November 5, 2012 5:03 PM

Juliet said:

I had a smartphone and switched to a basic phone still with verizon. I Still use my smartphone at home with my home wifi. I read that I could still use my old smartphone as a hotspot. Can I cancel home wifi and use my smartphone as a mobile hotspot without incurring in extra charges. (home wife is from charter)

November 19, 2012 1:29 AM

Dancer said:

As you know we Canadians get royally screwed by the providers. Indeed we need gov't intervention to stop the worst practices. Bill 133 aims to try and do that, it's not perfect but a good start.

We have one provider who supports the Bill (the only one to do so) as well as uses the Bill as their Business Model. For $27.50 a month I get phone protection , (lost or stolen), unlimited talk/text/data (text is global) (talk long distance is all of North America), Caller ID, Call Waiting & Forwarding, 3-Way calling, voicemail, 60 minutes roaming. Interesting thread, good luck.

November 26, 2012 1:00 AM

Dancer said:

Oops, I wanted to add, that price is not for a limited time either and if they come out with a new better sale, you just phone them and it's automatically applied.

November 26, 2012 1:05 AM

David Putman said:

Apple should just buy a network or better yet buy the wireless spectrum that has better signal reception. If Apple used some of their billions to own the distribution then watch even Apple haters line up to buy iPhones. Unlimited data should only be about $20 per month. I have 5 iPhones in my family with three of us on grandfathered "unlimited" plans.  We pay over $300 per month and AT&T won't even allow us to do FaceTime unless we give up our unlimited plans. Once your contract is up or if you outright buy the phone elsewhere, it is frustrating that they force the data plan on you.  I wish a class action law suit could be brought forward. Some say this shouldn't be legislated but yet the cellular companies are lobbying for laws to not allow individuals to jailbreak their own phones. I'm tempted to switch my entire family to T-Mobile but some of us do want the mobile data with high speed. Paying for two separate plans would be more costly.

January 9, 2013 3:52 PM

pissed off parent said:

I have 5 cell phones on my AT%T plan....and my wife allowed my 15 year old son to get an Iphone for Christmas....guess what? NOW IM PAYING $30 PER MO MORE BECAUSE OF THAT DATA CRAP!!!! MY KID HAS 4 COMPUTERS TO USE AT HOME....WHAT THE HELL DOES HE NEED DATA FOR? LOOKING AT PORN IN HIS BEDROOM? I called AT&T and raised hell, and they calmly said that Iphone requires data to function?? BULL!!!!!!!!! I have a HTC SMARTPHONE I USE WITH AT&T.....NO DATA, AND IT DIALS FINE!!!! I DONT WANT DATA!!!! I DONT NEED DATA......AND I WILL NOT PAY FOR DATA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ASSHOLE AT&T

February 17, 2013 11:02 PM

jason said:

With Tmobile you can get a value package and just pay per megabyte that you use. If you can turn the data option off on your smartphone then you are golden.

February 25, 2013 1:15 AM

Pissed Off Parent, too. said:

Same issue here with the frigging iPhone. Bought a used 4S for my son and blocked data on the line. A month later the data plan pops up. Same drill as before. AT&T reports that smartphones are "data-driven devices" and can't be blocked from the network. Bull.

I filed a complaint with the FCC and I urge everyone else to do the same. Who needs a data plan when WiFi is nearly everywhere? My son goes to college in a wired city.

May 19, 2013 9:40 PM

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About John Paul Cook

John Paul Cook is a database and Azure specialist in Houston. He previously worked as a Data Platform Solution Architect in Microsoft's Houston office. Prior to joining Microsoft, he was a SQL Server MVP. He is experienced in SQL Server and Oracle database application design, development, and implementation. He has spoken at many conferences including Microsoft TechEd and the SQL PASS Summit. He has worked in oil and gas, financial, manufacturing, and healthcare industries. John is also a Registered Nurse currently studying to be a psychiatric nurse practitioner. Contributing author to SQL Server MVP Deep Dives and SQL Server MVP Deep Dives Volume 2. Connect on LinkedIn

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