Prepaid has been very good for Sprint(s s), so good that it runs multiple no-contract services from the Virgin Mobile and Boost Mobile brands as well as the Sprint As You Go plans launched last year. Apparently you can’t have too much of a good thing because Sprint is launching yet another prepaid offering on Friday, this one with the rather unimaginative name Sprint Prepaid.
Instead of going after the youth segment the way Boost and Virgin do, Sprint Prepaid will replace As You Go and is targeting the same type of subscriber who would sign on with its main brand, just without the long-term commitment. At launch, Sprint is offering the Spark-enabled Samsung Galaxy 4 Mini, the Galaxy S3, the Moto G(s goog) and the iPhone 4S(s aapl). But the carrier has included an interesting twist in its service plans: You can buy a smartphone with no cellular data connection.
Called Prepaid Smart, the plan costs $45 a month and includes unlimited text and voice, but all 3G and 4G connectivity is disabled. If you want an internet connection, you’ll have to rely on the phone’s Wi-Fi radios. The other option, Smart Plus, costs $60 a month and includes 2.5 GB of data on either its LTE or CDMA 3G networks (after 2.5 GB, speeds are throttled), but the plan appears to have restrictions on video use on its 4G systems. The fine print states that streaming video may be relegated down to 3G speeds.
The no-data plan is a rather brave move by Sprint because it tacitly acknowledges a trend carriers aren’t very excited about. Many mobile subscribers are turning to Wi-Fi for most of their data needs and using cellular as a backup. A whole new batch of virtual carriers like Republic Wireless and Scratch Wireless are building their businesses around just such a usage model.
Whether a no-data plan will prove popular remains to be seen. While there might be many people willing to try to use their smartphones like iPod Touches, there’s little reason to do that for $45 a month. Plenty of MVNOs and some of the major carriers will sell you an unlimited talk and text plan with a decent data bucket for $45 a month. Heck, Sprint’s own Virgin Mobile will give you a $45 plan with 2.5 GB of unthrottled data as long you’re willing to settle for a mere 1,200 minutes of talk time each month.
The idea of a Wi-Fi-data-only smartphone is an interesting one. But if Sprint really wants to make it work, it will have to go cheaper.