If you have a smartphone on one of the big four carriers, you are probably required to carry a data plan, which usually costs around $30 per month. But for those for whom Wi-Fi is good enough, Sprint’s prepaid brand Virgin is introducing a $20 new plan that comes with minutes and text messages, but no data.
The $20 plan comes with 300 minutes of talk time and unlimited texts, and is one of a few new prepaid plans that Virgin is calling its “Unlimited” line. Other Unlimited plans come with data allotments, including a $35 option that adds 2.5GB of 4G data, although Virgin warns that video streaming might be throttled to 3G speeds. The top-of-the-line $55 plan, which comes with 3GB of 4G data, does not have that caveat.
Data plans usually make up the vast majority of a smartphone’s ownership cost over two years. A new iPhone or high-end Android device costs $650 without a subsidy, but a $30 allotment of data over two years costs $720 — and that’s on top of whatever your carrier is charging for minutes and texts. Sure, you do give up some features without data on the go, but for those who have good Wi-Fi coverage at home and work, it might not be that big of an issue. Some small MVNOs have offered voice-only plans for smartphones in the past, but Virgin is Sprint’s prepaid brand, and therefore it’s one of the first big carriers to give data-free plans a try.
Virgin requires its customers to buy a new phone from them, and although it doesn’t carry the iPhone 6 at this time, it does sell several high-end devices, including the year-old iPhone 5S as well as the Samsung Galaxy S5.
Sprint is already trying new ways of splitting and reattaching the cost of a device to its data plan. It offers a plan that includes a leased iPhone for $70 per month, for instance. Because of the device subsidy system the big carriers use, there hasn’t been a great deal of attention paid to less expensive mobile subscriptions. Virgin’s new low-end plan makes the cost-benefit analysis clear: If you’re willing to cut back on data and buy your smartphone up front, you can save a lot of money.