As postpaid services become ever-more-expensive, cheaper alternatives are beginning to look increasingly enticing. The prices of many prepaid services are nearly half of what you would pay with one of the four major nationwide carriers for a comparable plan. But there are usually a few stipulations.
For instance, prepaid customers rarely have first dibs on anything even relatively new or impressive. Device offerings are usually around six months to a year behind postpaid providers' lineups; new networks are not immediately available to MNVOs and other prepaid carriers; and devices are generally more expensive due to no (or very low) subsidation.
This morning, however, Leap Wireless announced an offer that may just be too good for some to pass up, one that could bode a major change for the future of prepaid. Leap revealed that their subsidary, Cricket Wireless, will begin selling the iPhone 4 (8GB) and iPhone 4S (16GB) on June 22.
Why is this so significant if the iPhone 4S has been out for just shy of eight months? For one, Cricket Wireless will become the first prepaid provider to officially offer the iPhone ... ever. This means that, along with numerous regional carriers, Apple has agreed to allow a prepaid provider to sell the iPhone. Other MNVOs and prepaid providers could soon follow.
But what this also means is that prepaid carriers are getting a little more serious about their offerings. The iPhone 4S, for example, is still regarded as one of the best smartphones around. Until last week, it held the #1 position in the Mobile Tech Expert's Chart in our Official Smartphone Rankings (OSR). It currently sits in the #2 spot on the Mobile Tech Expert's Chart and #4 in the People's Choice Chart.
Unsubsidized, though, the price of the devices will be a tough knot for come customers to swallow, especially for a nation of people who have been pampered by deep subsidizations and have lost sight of the true value of such devices. The 8GB iPhone 4, which is approaching two-years-old now, will sell for $399.99 and the iPhone 4S will set customers back $499.99.
Compared to the $99.99 price of the iPhone 4 and $199.99 for the 16GB 4S on either AT&T, Verizon or Sprint, Cricket's offer initially seems rather steep ... potentially ludicrous. But the price of service more than makes up for the no-contract phone pricing. For just $55 per month, you will get unlimited minutes, text messaging and data on Cricket. (Note: Cricket's fair usage policy of 2.3GB per month does apply.) Depending on your current carrier, data and minute plans, the $500 iPhone 4S could be saving you upwards of $50 per month in as little as six months. Those savings can really add up over the course of a contract.
Say, for instace, you pay $110 per month with AT&T and purchased an iPhone 4S for $199.99 with a two-year agreement. Over the course of the contract, you will pay $2,840 (not including tax). Over the course of two years with the iPhone 4S on Cricket at $55 per month, you would spend just $1,820. That's a difference of $1,020 (or $510 per year).
Now the question remains: is the Cricket iPhone enough to make you take the prepaid plunge?
For me, there's a simple answer. As enticing as $55 per month may be, especially for "unlimited" everything with an iPhone, no. I could cut the bill for my secondary line in half, get roughly the same services (not to be confused with coverage) and reap the benefits. But I'm not.
If you take a gander at the above Cricket Wireless coverage map (which is easily located on their site), you can see exactly why.
The maroon area is Cricket's 3G data coverage area for about 85 percent of North Carolina. The light purple/pink is their partner 3G data coverage area. I live right on the edge of one of those big, gaping holes above Winston-Salem. Needless to say, data coverage – which is most important to me considering I don't care for voice calls – is extremely important to me and would most definitely be a problem with Cricket.
But it isn't just about coverage. I'm a sucker for the latest and greatest. I've owned the iPhone 4S since it released in October 2011. Like most of you, I'm patiently awating Apple's next iPhone announcement, and I will probably purchase it once it's available. The chances of Cricket offering the next iPhone immediately after launch are slim to none, while I'm almost certain both of the providers I use will officially offer it. Of course, getting it to work on Cricket probably wouldn't be too difficult.
For me, though, it's just easier to stick to a nationwide, postpaid provider, even if I'm dying to spend less on my wireless bills each month.
Still, $55 per month for "unlimited" use with an iPhone on Cricket is a fantastic deal I'm sure many will love taking advantage of. Tell me, readers, will you be buying the first prepaid iPhone? Will you be canceling service with your existing carrier and heading to Cricket? Or, like me, will you stick to paying more each month and hold out for the upcoming iPhone instead?