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AT&T CEO says Data-Only wireless plans coming by 2014

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson today suggested that the mobile world will likely shift to data-only plans in the years to come.

"I'll be surprised if in the next 24 months we don't see people in the marketplace with data-only plans," Stephenson said today at the Sanford C. Bernstein Conference.

That shift, he said, is "inevitable," pointing to the move from landlines to cell phones in recent years.

"It took awhile for the fixed line business to get there, but it did," Stephenson said.

But before you mourn the loss of your wireless voice and texting option, the AT&T chief said he does not envision a "big flash cut" to data-only options. "It'll take time," he said.

In other words, AT&T has no immediate plans to switch to a data-only world, but a lot can change in two years.

Wireless chiefs have been making some rather notable comments at these investor conferences lately. Last month, Verizon Communications CFO Fran Shammo appeared at a J.P. Morgan technology conference and confirmed that users grandfathered into unlimited data plans would soon have to migrate to a tiered option.

The data crunch was a big focus of Stephenson and Shammo's presentations. Stephenson said today that data usage on AT&T's network is up 200,000 per cent (that 2,000 times) in the last five years. In the next five years, that is expected to jump 75 percent each year, he said.

"There is no great tech solution on the horizon that's going to accommodate that kind of growth," Stephenson said. "There's only one thing to help mitigate pricing and that is more spectrum brought to market."