Sprint, the United States’ third-largest wireless company, will now compete directly with T-Mobile in the suddenly burgeoning world of contract-free prepaid wireless use.
Sprint formally announced its latest effort to move into the prepaid world this afternoon, saying that its new Sprint Prepaid service would allow users to purchase some of the most popular smartphones available and get wireless service while avoiding a contract.
Users who sign up for a Sprint Prepaid plan may be managing to avoid a two-year service contract and slightly higher monthly service pricing, however they’re also missing out on Sprint’s most popular devices. Sprint Prepaid will only have the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini, the Galaxy S3 and the Motorola Moto G at launch. Users who want compatibility with Sprint’s 4G LTE network will want the Galaxy S3 or the Galaxy S4 mini as the Moto G doesn’t support that technology. The company is also making the iPhone 4s available to Sprint Prepaid users too.
The $45 a month Smart Plan will buy users unlimited talk, text and what Sprint is referring to as “Wi-Fi enabled data only.” Simply put, users who purchase that $45 plan won’t get any wireless data access at all. Instead, they’ll need to search for nearby wireless hotspots. Users who sign up for the Smart Plus plan at $60 will get unlimited talk, text and 2.5GB of high-speed data. Their device could automatically drop them down to 3G speeds if they’re watching videos.
Sprint Prepaid will offer two services at launch. First, is Sprint Money Express, a system that will allow Android users to pay bills and make pre-paid purchases using a Sprint Visa card. It’ll also allowe Sprint Prepaid users to sign up for phone insurance within the first 30 days of their purchase.
The real question isn’t whether these plans will save users money, they will if they’re switching from a traditional Sprint service plan. No, the real question is how it compares to T-Mobile’s offerings. After all, it’s T-Mobile’s UnCarrier initiatives that have sparked competition in the U.S. smartphone industry.
Users who sign up for prepaid services on T-Mobile get unlimited talk, text, international texting and 1GB of high-speed data for $50 a month. Users who exceed that 1GB won’t be cutoff but will be slowed down. Users who sign up for T-Mobile’s $60 plan get 3GB of data before they’re slowed down plus Unlimited Talk and unlimited texting. Finally, there’s a $70 plan that grants users unlimited 4G LTE access and unlimited talk and texting. Clearly, T-Mobile still has the advantage there.
Of course, service charges aren’t the only part of this equation. Users need a device to actually use the service on and that’s where Sprint Prepaid falls apart for now. The cheapest phone the carrier offers right now is the Moto G at $99.99 with the Galaxy S3 coming in at $299.99 the Galaxy S4 mini coming in at $349 and the iPhone 5s coming in at $199.99. Not only is that a pretty meager selection but T-Mobile lets users pick up a high-end device with no money down and add that cost to their plans over time. That’s something Sprint Prepaid doesn’t do and probably why the company is sticking to very old versions of the latest smartphones. Users will be able to trade in older devices for credit on their account but that’s it.
Users can place orders for Sprint Prepaid compatible handsets online or in-store now. The company says it has plans to add feature phones to its offerings overtime.