Can Prepaid Plan Users Save Money?

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2012-06-07 Print this article Print


But it also means that smartphone users can save a lot of money if they're willing to forgo the subsidy the carriers put on their phones, and just pay the full price upfront. For example, by buying the Virgin iPhone 4S, a customer can easily save about $60 per month over a Sprint unlimited plan. If you buy the iPhone 4S from Sprint, it'll cost you $199.99 and the unlimited plan will cost you $99.99 per month. Sprint says that there's also a $10 Premium Data charge. So in reality, your iPhone 4S service is costing you $109.99 per month. 

The savings in a year is $720. In other words, by buying the Virgin phone and using it on Sprint's network, you'll more than make up the difference between the subsidized phone and the unsubsidized phone in about a year. The next year is basically gravy. 

Of course, there are some potential gotchas. Depending on the details, you may not be able to roam in some areas with the Virgin phones. The Cricket phone released last week can be used almost everywhere because that company has roaming agreements with almost every CDMA carrier. The other potential problem is that you may not be able to use either the Virgin or Cricket phones outside the United States, even in places that have CDMA service. You'll need to check this if you plan international travel. 

So in reality, Apple has been in the prepaid phone business, although quietly, since it started selling the iPhone as an unlocked device, back in the days when the iPhone 4 was new. The difference was that Apple was doing the selling, and you had to set up the phone service and buy a SIM through your favorite GSM carrier, most likely T-Mobile or AT&T. Those two carriers weren't selling unlocked iPhones at the time, although you can get AT&T to provide the unlock code for an out-of-contract iPhone now. T-Mobile, of course, has never sold iPhones, although the company is happy to sell you a compatible SIM and a plan to go with it if you show up with one. 

For Apple, the release of the CDMA iPhones through prepaid carriers gives the company some experience with the prepaid market before it enters into the much bigger prepaid markets in Europe and Asia, where subsidized phones with contracts are rare or nonexistent and most phones are sold through independent retailers. Gaining this experience is what Apple needs to do if the company plans to grow globally, which is what it clearly plans to do.


Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazine's Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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