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It's hard to deny the recent growth of prepaid wireless carriers such as Boost Mobile, MetroPCS, and Virgin Mobile, to name a few. According to a recent study by the New Millennium Research Council, an independent telecommunications think tank, the 4th quarter of 2010 marked the first time that the number of new prepaid wireless customers in the U.S. outnumbered new contract-based cell phone providers. And that's just the start. The same study showed that one in five U.S. cell phone consumers with contract-based service is likely to switch in early 2011 to less expensive unlimited prepaid wireless service.

This may surprise some, but to those who are becoming ever more conscious of their tight budget (which is like 90% of the world) this really isn't that shocking.  To that note, we're seeing quite a few prepaid wireless carriers selling more smartphones and other high-end devices. Why get locked into a two-year contract with a device that will be outdated in four months when you can get that same awesome device, or one similar, without a contract so you can easily upgrade (or cancel your service) at any time? The emergence of higher and higher early termination fees has increased the popularity of this idea. Are we on the brink of a new revolution in wireless communication? Not the 1GHz processor revolution or even the 4G data revolution, but the Prepaid Revolution?

(Not that lightning fast processors and 4G data aren't cool and extremely useful technologies. That's probably why prepaid carriers are starting to make use of them.)

Did you know that MetroPCS has a rapidly expanding 4G LTE network and will soon start selling a 4G smartphone with a 1 GHz processor? Or that Alltel Prepaid has a smartphone with one of the most popular UI's on the market and specs that would make anyone who saw your phone jealous? Or that Verizon sells one of the best smartphones on the market, packed with a 1 GHz processor, 8 megapixel camera, and a 4.3-inch display, through its prepaid service? Gone are the days when prepaid phones "suck".

Oh, and did I mention that most of these carriers have "unlimited" plans for 40-60 bucks? And I'm not talking about that local prepaid carrier that only works in your city. I'm talking about AT&T, Verizon, Virgin Mobile and MetroPCS, all of which cover at least 90% of Americans.

You have to agree with Sam Simon, senior fellow of the New Millennium Council, who said: "As the prepaid space offers new pricing, better phones, national coverage, and stronger support from trusted major retailers, the trend away from more expensive contract-based cell phones will accelerate as never before."

Yes, as Mr. Simon put it, "2011 is shaping up to the Year of the Prepaid Cell Phone Consumer...[They] are clearly fed up with the high prices of contract-based cell phone service and the gouging that goes on with early-termination fees (ETF)."

So, have you jumped on the bandwagon yet? How does the freedom feel?


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