Leap Wireless, Sprint to Offer Prepaid No-contract iPhone 4 and 4S

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2012-06-03

Leap Wireless, Sprint to Offer Prepaid No-contract iPhone 4 and 4S

It€™s taken nearly five years, but it looks like the iPhone will soon be running on nearly every segment of the U.S. wireless telephone network, including smaller regional carriers and prepaid cell phone services. It looks like even T-Mobile will soon be ready to carry the iPhone.


Already two big prepaid cell phone services names will start offering the Apple iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S without a contract. Cricket Communications, a subsidiary of Leap Wireless, will start selling a non-contract version of the CDMA iPhone on June 22, according to a company announcement. The Cricket iPhone 4S will sell for $499.99. You can buy an iPhone 4 for $399.99.


A day after the Cricket iPhone was announced, a rumor surfaced in TechnoBuffalo that Boost Mobile, which is a subsidiary of Sprint, would also offer a CDMA prepaid iPhone in September. The Boost Mobile information had few details, although it€™s reasonable to assume that pricing would be similar to what€™s available at Cricket.


"Our customers want the best products available and we are excited to bring iPhone to our prepaid consumers with an industry-leading $55 per-month service plan," said Doug Hutcheson, president and chief executive officer, Leap Wireless International, in a prepared statement. "Launching iPhone is a major milestone for us and we are proud to offer iPhone customers attractive nationwide coverage, a robust 3G data network and a value-packed, no-contract plan," the statement said.


Boost Mobile has yet to confirm that the company will be offering the iPhone.


Now that prepaid carriers are starting to work with Apple, the obvious question is where is T-Mobile. While a source in a position to know has told eWEEK that T-Mobile will be selling the iPhone in 2012, the source was unable to provide any specifics, including a date.

However, T-Mobile has already begun the process of re-farming its HSPA+ network so that it€™s compatible with the iPhone and it has begun the process of implementing LTE on bands compatible with the iPhone. T-Mobile announced on May 7 that the company had selected vendors to build out its 4G network, including LTE. The company said in its statement that its nationwide LTE build out would be in place in 2013.

While iPhones will work fine on T-Mobile€™s existing network, they won€™t work on the company€™s original HSPA+ bands, meaning that the one million or so iPhone users already on T-Mobile need to use the slower 3G EDGE protocol or the even slower GPRS protocol for data. The build out of the new HSPA+ network that will work with the iPhone is already underway and there are already pockets of connectivity for some iPhone users in some major cities.


T-Mobile Getting Its Network iPhone-Ready


While T-Mobile was unwilling to confirm the rumors that iPhone service was going to be announced soon, a company spokesperson did tell eWEEK that the company is ready to work with iPhone owners who want to make the switch.


€œToday, T-Mobile has more than one million unlocked iPhones running on our network. T-Mobile currently offers microSIMs for customers who already have a GSM phone they want to use on the T-Mobile network, including an iPhone,€ the spokesperson said in a prepared statement. €œIn order to set up an unlocked iPhone on T-Mobile€™s network, customers simply need to purchase a microSIM card and select a T-Mobile Value plan that suits their needs,€ the statement said.


The spokesperson did confirm that T-Mobile was in the process of making spectrum available so that iPhones will be fully functional. €œIn addition, we will continue to deliver more value to customers as we expand and modernize our network,€ the spokesperson said. €œBeginning this year, we will introduce HSPA+ service in our 1900 MHz PCS spectrum. Deploying HSPA+ service in [the] 1900 spectrum makes our network compatible with a broader range of devices in the market today and going forward €“ including the iPhone.€


Apple does make it possible to buy an iPhone that will work on T-Mobile€™s network, or any GSM network, without a contract. You can buy an unlocked GSM iPhone for prices ranging from $649 for a 16GB version to $849 for a 64GB version of the iPhone 4S from Apple€™s Website or from an Apple store.


You€™ll notice that the price for a GSM iPhone is about $150 higher than the price of a no-contract iPhone from Cricket. While the Cricket phone is sold without a contract, it is not unlocked. As is the case with all CDMA phones, you can€™t just swap a SIM card to change carriers.


The Cricket phone is in fact locked to Cricket. Whether Cricket plans to unlock it so you can use it with Sprint or Verizon isn€™t known, but it€™s clear from the price difference that there€™s some sort of subsidy involved, so it would seem that Cricket is betting that enough buyers will keep using their iPhones to make it worth their while.


Apple has also been making the iPhone available to smaller regional carriers on plans that are similar to the three national carriers that offer the iPhone. The move to prepaid phones with Cricket is a new approach. There has been speculation that Apple is trying out the prepaid model with Cricket in preparation for broadening its base of customers, especially outside the United States, where prepaid phones are the norm. 

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