Sprint Targets Growing Prepaid Market With Aggressively Priced Plans

Sprint (s s) today announced cheaper prepaid plans through the Virgin Mobile USA brand it purchased last July for $483 million, a move aimed at attracting more of the growing number of wireless customers choosing such payment plans.

Three new “Beyond Talk” plans begin at $25 per month and all include unlimited messaging, data, email and web access. The base plan includes 300 voice minutes, while customers can move to a plan with 1,200 minutes for $40 per month or choose unlimited voice for a total of $60 per month. BlackBerry (s rimm) service is available for $10 extra per month to be used with the newly available BlackBerry Curve 8530, priced at $299.99.

Although it’s often difficult to compare handheld service plans due to variances in the features and voice limits, the new Beyond Talk plans compare favorably to most traditional postpaid contract plans offered by Sprint’s competitors — and even that of Sprint itself. Here’s a quick comparison of the new, $60 unlimited Beyond Talk prepaid plan to unlimited contract plans, with data plans based on non-smartphones:

Virgin Mobile USA Sprint AT&T Verizon Wireless T-Mobile
Unlimited voice, text, web $60 $99.99 $104.99 $99.99 $99.99
Plan name Beyond Talk Simply Everything National Plan Unlimited Talk Even More Talk

So why the aggressive push? Lately, growth in the U.S. cellular market is in prepaid, not postpaid, so Sprint is trying to grease the Virgin Mobile USA machine it spent nearly half a billion dollars to acquire. According to research from the New Millennium Research Council (NMRC), new prepaid wireless customers in the U.S. during the last quarter of 2009 outnumbered new contract customers for the first time ever — 65 percent of the 4.2 million new customers came from the prepaid market.

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