Sprint will continue to offer smartphone users unlimited data access, but it's going to charge a bit more for that extravagance. Starting Jan. 30, the carrier will begin applying a Premium Data charge of $10 a month to all new smartphone accounts. Current Sprint smartphone customers won't be affected unless they upgrade or activate a new phone.
In a Jan. 18 statement, the carrier explained that smartphone customers use, on average, 10 times more data that feature phone owners. And while it's delighted to be offering smartphones, 3G and 4G wireless networks, and all the benefits that come with them-e-mailing photos, watching videos, getting driving directions, etc.-it turns out that wireless data networks are seriously expensive to build, maintain and expand.
"Sprint wants its customers to experience the range of entertainment and productivity possibilities available with today's wireless technology," Bob H. Johnson, president of Sprint's consumer business, said in a statement. "While some of our competitors impose overage charges and complex plans, Sprint continues to provide a worry-free, unlimited data experience while on the Sprint network. This is responsible, sustainable and reflects our commitment to simplicity in value."
Previously, the Premium Data charge applied to only HTC Evo 4G, HTC Evo Shift 4G and Samsung Epic 4G devices.
As wireless carriers adapt to more speedy technology offerings and growing numbers of smartphone users, adjustments to their wireless-data pricing plans have become the norm-as has doing away with unlimited data plans. AT&T, struggling to support and meet the demands of its swelling iPhone population, was the first to call uncle, in June 2010, and make the shift to tiered pricing-a move it said would really only affect the small percentage of its subscribers using excessive amounts of data each month.
As the 2010 holidays neared, Verizon tried out tiered pricing, offering it as a holiday promotion. During the carrier's third-quarter earnings call on Oct. 22, CFO John Killian said that a move to tiered pricing was being considered.
"We like the concept of tiered pricing, but we will continue to look at this," Killian said during the call. "We will probably have some pricing changes when we roll out 4G and 4G pricing, so there will be more to come then."
On Dec. 5, Verizon's 4G LTE (long-term evolution) network went live, and on Jan. 11 it announced that it would begin selling an iPhone 4, come Feb. 10. The new tiered pricing plans expected to go with it, however, have yet to be announced.
Also feeling the burden of all-you-can-eat pricing, Virgin Mobile, PC World reported Jan. 12, plans to go the way of T-Mobile and Cricket. While dubbing its plan "unlimited," after Feb. 15, once an account exceeds 5GB of data use in a month, its user can expect to experience considerably slower speeds. The carrier reportedly called the decision a way to "implement network controls to ensure optimal experience."
Sprint, in announcing the change to its pricing, stated that its offer was nonetheless the best one available.
"Sprint's unlimited data plans, with or without the $10 charge, continue to beat the offerings of our top national competitors, who cap users' data, charge data overages, and do not offer the unique functionality of Any Mobile, Anytime," said Johnson, "which gives subscribers ... unlimited calling to any other wireless user in America, regardless of carrier."