As users flee 3G, Verizon turns it into a prepaid network

Willing to give up speedy LTE service to save a few bucks? Then Verizon(s vz)(s vod) has your number. The operator launched two new prepaid phone plans on Friday that include unlimited voice minutes and messaging.

For $60, you also get 500 MB of mobile data, while another $10 per month boosts your broadband bucket to 2 GB. There’s no contract involved, so the only “gotcha” is the limitation of service: These plans are only good for 3G phones, which have data connections 10 times slower than LTE devices.

We actually saw this coming a few months ago. Back in November, my colleague Kevin Fitchard noted that as Verizon customers migrate to the LTE network, the old 3G airwaves would be used less and less. Using the 3G network for any additional revenue generation is gravy at this point:

So in just year or two Verizon will have a largely empty 3G network. Eventually it will shutter those CDMA systems, replacing them with 4G technologies, but that could take the remainder of the decade if not longer. Verizon needs those CDMA networks for its legacy voice services, and its planned launch of an IP-based voice-over-LTE service is still on the drawing board. In short, that 3G data network is going nowhere so it behooves Verizon to find ways of filling it.

So who will these new plans appeal to? Folks that want Verizon’s coverage and call quality without a contract. They’ll have to use an older phone due to the 3G limitation but Verizon says the new prepaid plans support Android(s goog), iOS(s aapl) and BlackBerry(s rimm) devices. Yesterday’s flagship phone may be one person’s trash but with this plan, it could turn into someone else’s treasure.