T-Mobile's "Project Dark" a Threat to Prepaid Providers

gtmo_12061_158079_v3T-Mobile USA has seen its growth stall and its ARPU slide in recent months as cut-rate discount service providers poach budget-conscious customers, and as AT&T (s t) and Verizon Wireless target high-end users. So the nation’s fourth-largest carrier is taking aim at both segments at we enter the holiday season with new calling plans and two new Android phones. But it’s the prepaid guys who have the most to fear.

“Even More Plus” plans, which don’t require a contract, include an unlimited-everything option for $80 a month and a voice-only unlimited plan for $50 a month. And while T-Mobile doesn’t offer subsidized handsets with the new no-contract plans, it does allow users to pay for expensive phones over a 20-month period without interest; users who already have a handset can also take advantage without additional fees. A number of traditional contract plans are offered, too, under the “Even More” category.

The prepaid plans, which were announced yesterday, had been rumored for weeks as the centerpiece of T-Mobile’s “Project Dark” initiative, and the carrier is clearly taking aim at its bigger brothers by marketing the offerings on its web site as “1/2 the price of comparable AT&T or Verizon plans.” But it’s the smaller, prepaid-only providers that could be feeling nervous about the new plans. T-Mobile hasn’t matched the rock-bottom plans of bargain-basement providers like TracFone Wireless, but it does operate a truly national network and it offers a more compelling lineup of handsets than most prepaid competitors. For prepaid users looking for more than just voice and text messaging, “Even More Plus” will be pretty attractive.