Smartphones are connected computers that fit in our pockets — at this point, the "phone" part of them is virtually an afterthought. We use them for all kinds of communication that has nothing to do with a phone number: email, instant messaging, social networks, video calling, the list goes on. But if you want a smartphone, you have to pay for a voice calling plan. Often a text messaging plan is bundled or required as well. This goes for every major carrier, and even progressive Wi-Fi-first options such as Google’s Project Fi and Republic Wireless.
Charge Mobile Data, a new service launching today, is offering something different: a data-only plan that doesn’t require the purchase of voice calling or text messaging. Charge, an MVNO that uses Sprint’s LTE network, will sell you a SIM card and data allotment that will work in any compatible phone or tablet. You won’t be able to make phone calls or send traditional SMS text messages with Charge, but you can use the data as you see fit, whether that’s for VOIP calling, video calling, messaging, tethering, or any other task that requires a data connection.
Charge works with any Sprint-compatible device
"We came up with the idea [for Charge] when we realized that we never used our voice calling plans, but weren’t able to get a smartphone without a voice plan from any carrier," says Andrew Benton, cofounder and CEO. The resulting service is very similar to Karma, but instead of tying the connection and data package to a mobile hotspot device, it’s paired to a SIM card that can go in any device you want, so long as that device is compatible with Sprint’s LTE network. Benton says that the service will work with any Sprint-branded LTE device, as well as most modern Apple and Google Nexus devices, regardless of which carrier they were used on previously. You can expect it to work with CDMA versions of the iPhone 5S and 5C; all versions of the iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6S, and 6S Plus; all iPads starting with the iPad Air 2 and mini 3; and CDMA versions of the iPad mini 2. The company says it is working to add support for GSM devices in the future.
I’ve been testing Charge Mobile Data for the past couple of weeks in a Nexus 5X and an iPad Pro — both unlocked devices that are compatible with Sprint. Using it with the iPad is just like using any other data service with an iPad: put in the SIM, turn it on, and get connected wherever you have a signal. The concept carries over to the Nexus 5X, as well, though the phone and text messaging apps obviously no longer function. Coverage with both devices was comparable to other Sprint devices I’ve used in the past.
Charge’s rates for data are comparable to other pay-as-you-go services: pricing starts at $15 per gigabyte and drops to $13 per gigabyte when three or more are purchased at a time. A limited-time promotion offers a free gigabyte of data when five or more are purchased. There are no contracts or term commitments, and the purchased data never expires, much like Karma’s pay-as-you-go service.
The service pairs nicely with LTE tablets
Charge might appeal to you if you have an older, unused phone lying around that you want to turn into a data-only device (it works just fine with 2013’s Nexus 5, for example), or if you want an LTE-connected tablet but aren’t interested in paying a monthly fee for it. If you’re savvy enough, you could pair Charge with a service like Google Voice and still retain the benefits of having a phone number, without having to pay for a voice plan.
Either way, Charge’s data-only plan points to a future where we won’t have to pay for cellphone services we no longer use, while putting a greater emphasis on the services that we are using. Hopefully, this becomes a trend, and other carriers follow Charge’s lead, letting us begin the long goodbye to the phone number.