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Carrier Competition Heats Up In Spring

NEW YORK – The competitive heat in the smartphone industry always rises when winter draws to a close. Carriers Sprint and T-Mobile engaged in one-upsmanship over paying a consumer’s cost to switch to their networks from other networks. T-Mobile prepaid brand MetroPCS introduced its lowest cost rate plan. And AT&T prepaid subsidiary Cricket Wireless continued to expand distribution with the addition of Amazon.

Carriers are also using new flagship phones from Samsung and HTC to generate an advantage. Sprint, for example, plans to offer the Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge under its monthly leasing program but at $20 less than what the normal lease rates would be. The lease on the 32GB S6 therefore will be free after the $20 discount. The phones must be paired, however, with the carrier’s Sprint Unlimited Plus plan.

The new flagship phones from HTC and Samsung will appear in stores April 10.

Here’s what carriers and the prepaid services announced:
Sprint: The company will reimburse all of a consumer’s cost to switch to Sprint, including early termination fees (ETF) and remaining payments on phone installment plans. Sprint promised to pay “no matter what is owed.”

Sprint previously offered to pay up to $350 per line to buy out the contracts of consumers who switch to select Sprint plans. The reimbursement applied to either ETF or to the balance of a subscriber’s phone-installment contract. Consumers who switch must turn in their current phone.

To participate, consumers must activate a device on Sprint Easy Pay, iPhone for Life Plan, or Sprint Lease plan, or pay full retail price, with a new line of service.

Separately, the carrier announced $20 off the regular leasing rates of the Samsung flagships, making it free to lease the 32GB S6.

T-Mobile: The carrier previously offered to pay a consumer’s ETF for switching to T-Mobile while under contract, capping the payment at $350. Under the new Carrier Freedom program, the company is also paying up to an additional $650 to cover outstanding monthly payments on device equipment installment plans (EIPs) or on device leases. Switchers must hand in their old device to get reimbursed.

The carrier also extended its Data Stash program to prepaid Simple Choice plans, joining postpaid phones.

MetroPCS: The T-Mobile prepaid brand rolled out a $30/month unlimited plan that it says is less expensive than any prepaid plan with data from rivals Boost Mobile and Cricket.

The plan, available through MetroPCS corporate stores and independent cellular dealers, delivers unlimited talk, text and data, though only 1GB of data is delivered at 4G HSPA+ speed. The plan is not available on 4G LTE phones, nor is it available through national retailers.

A spokesperson described the plan as promotional but said there is no end date.

The plan joins $40, $50 and $60 plans with unlimited talk, text and unlimited data, but these plans work with LTE phones.

Cricket Wireless: The AT&T prepaid subsidiary continued to move ahead with plans to become a national presence, planning to make its 4G LTE devices and accessories available through Amazon.

The first product available through Amazon is a $9.99 Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) Universal SIM Card Activation Kit, which lets consumers add Cricket service to their own new or used phone.