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Prepaid Services

Tracfone Changes Minute Transfer Policies

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I read today about a significant possible change to Tracfone‘s policy about transferring minutes and numbers between phones. After calling Tracfone, I’m still a little puzzled about whether or not this change is new, but as it is already in effect either way, I’ll go ahead and tell you about it.

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No Contract Postpaid Plans: Worth It?

The wireless industry is slowly changing as consumers are beginning to realize they don’t have to deal with cumbersome 2-year contracts anymore. In fact, when T-Mobile rebranded itself as the ‘Uncarrier’ and began advertising “no contract” and “contract buyout” deals, unhappy customers flocked to their pink savior, vowing to never again sign a contract. And the other carriers immediately took action and began offering the same ‘no contract’ postpaid deals that T-Mobile pioneered.

But are these ‘no contract’ postpaid deals any better than a regular 2-year agreement or a prepaid phone plan? I’ll put out my pros and cons, and you can decide.

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Prepaid Coverage Maps Compared

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We’ve talked about it before, but there is a huge difference between postpaid coverage and prepaid coverage. Networks usually boast about their area to postpaid customers but the prepaid segment usually doesn’t have the same level of coverage. To make it even more complicated, there are so many different MVNOs and prepaid carriers and choices to make all promising different speeds and the best coverage around.

So to help out, we have compiled the coverage maps of some of the largest prepaid carriers so you can compare and decide which is best for your location.

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Using a Prepaid Phone Internationally

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One of the cheapest ways to keep in touch with friends while traveling abroad is to use a prepaid phone instead of your normal phone. Depending on the country you are calling to or from, international rates can be extremely expensive with both prepaid and postpaid phone plans–if you have international calling at all.

Here are a few things to consider when you are looking to travel abroad:

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Verizon MVNOs Rumored to Get LTE

While nothing has been officially announced, Android Headlines has posted a rumor that Verizon might be expanding their LTE network to some of their MVNOs in the future. Currently, MVNOs on the Verizon network are limited to 3G and the coverage isn’t quite as fast or reliable as what Verizon postpaid customers enjoy. But, with two other smaller carriers expanding their LTE network to MVNOs, Verizon might not have much of a choice.

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RadioShack Closes No-Contract Wireless

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RadioShack has quietly shut down its No-Contract Wireless brand and removed all of their phones and offers from their site. Phones from other MVNOs are still available, however. Customers who purchased a No-Contract Wireless phone in the last 30 days can get a full refund by contacting RadioShack.

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Choosing a Type of Prepaid Plan

No-contract wireless prepaid plans have become more and more common and it seems like all of the four major carriers have monthly plans, prepaid brands or both. But as the prepaid consumer base grows, I have noticed a divide between the types of plans offered: pay-as-you-go reloadable accounts and prepaid monthly accounts. While the trend is quickly moving towards the latter, it is still possible to find pay-as-you-go plans without being grandfathered in.

And that leads to another question: Which is right for you?

Here are some pros and cons of each so you can decide.

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Verizon LTE Network For Prepaid

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If you hadn’t heard, Verizon has officially launched their LTE data service availability for prepaid customers. The service will be available for their AllSet prepaid plans, with plans featuring unlimited voice and text and 500 MB of data starting at $45 per month. Of course, other mobile carriers have offered LTE services for prepaid customers for several years but it’s nice to see Verizon is finally hopping onboard and no longer limiting prepaid phones to their 3G network.

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Personalize With Virgin Mobile Custom

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On Thursday, Virgin Mobile USA introduced Virgin Mobile Custom, their no-annual-contract deal with completely customizable and tailored rate plans and parental controls. When you purchase a Custom phone, you can activate the device for $6.98 per line per month (up to five lines) on the Base plan, which comes with a puny 20 texts and 20 voice minutes. From there, you can choose to have unlimited talk ($18), text ($10) or both ($35) as well as various ‘add-ons’ that provide unlimited access to Facebook, Pandora, etc. They have plans that allow for 30 minutes of international calling to specific countries as well. Specific prices for those add-ons aren’t listed at the present.

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Prepaid Text Only Plans

Nowadays the text messaging is becoming a more convenient way to reach friends, family and co-workers. Parents who need to reach their children and quick work updates can save families and companies a great deal of money eliminating the voice option.

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What we missed: AT&T prepaid, Zact MVNO, Consumer Cellular

After a much-needed week away, let’s catch up on some prepaid wireless stories from the last week:

Sprint MVNO Zact brings custom usage. Do you use all the voice minute in your plan? All of your texts? Do you max out your data usage? Chances are you don’t. Zact, a new MVNO, aims to change that. They feature a sliding scale of plans that fit anyone’s patterns. When you go to their plans page you can pick a custom level of talk, text, and data. It sounds like a great concept.

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Smaller carriers, MVNOs, taking prepaid business from big carriers

This was bound to happen sometime. A recent report shows that small prepaid carriers did quite well in the third quarter, increasing their subscriber totals by 23 percent. Where did those customers come from? While there are many sources, a large portion might have come from large carriers’ prepaid programs. Those numbers slipped 12 percent — and that’s including T-Mobile’s 365,000 prepaid adds, the great majority of which were with the main brand. The swing was great, indeed. Now that prepaid has become something of a mainstream option, consumers are starting to see the benefits of contract-free cellular.

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Why you should get a portable hotspot with prepaid mobile broadband

Contract carriers want us to sign our lives away. For some consumers maybe it makes sense to make a two-year commitment in exchange for a $200 or higher discount on a smartphone. But why in the world would anyone commit to two years for a mobile broadband connection? It seems like a long commitment for a service you might not use all the time.

Today Cricket updated its mobile broadband pricing. (Via FierceWireless. This type of prepaid mobile broadband connection is best utilized with a portable hotspot. Here’s why.

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Prepaid picking up pace: 25 percent of U.S. mobile phone users on no-contract plans

While one period does not represent a trend, we saw an interesting shift in the U.S. cellular market during the first quarter of 2012. Via Ars Trechnica, for the first time ever the number of postpaid subscribers declined. It was a mere 52,000, and the top carriers managed to add customers. But that’s a net loss overall. At the same time, prepaid has continued to add, now constituting 25 percent of the overall mobile market. While this might seem strange in the moment, it has actually been a long time coming. In fact, we heard a prediction along these lines four years ago.

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Could carriers aim to imitate the Cricket/MetroPCS model?

For as long as cell phones have been in the main stream, we’ve had plans featuring buckets of minutes. It was revolutionary, in fact, when Sprint moved to an unlimited calling scheme a few years ago. Others followed suit, but their plans are quite expensive. Yet voice usage has declined lately, leaving carriers scrambling for ways to retain revenue. Their idea, according to a Wall Street Journal report (via FierceWireless), is to replace minute-limited plans with a single unlimited tier. If that sounds familiar, it’s because many prepaid carriers currently employ the same tactic when it comes to voice.

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What we missed in prepaid: Virgin Mobile, ZTE Merit, Samsung Appeal, Voyager Mobile, GameStop, Page Plus

I was away on vacation last week, and due to a few technical issues we couldn’t get Pam, who contributes to the site, to fill in. Oh well. We did miss a few things in the last week, so let’s run them down bullet-point style. We’ll be running at normal capacity, starting about nowish.

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MVNO Ting might buy out your postpaid contract

The above photo is a promotion from Ting, an MVNO of the Sprint network. Each day this month they’re going to pick one person and let him or her out of a postpaid mobile phone contract. All you have to do is visit Ting’s Dump Your Contract Month site and fill out the form. Each person is limited to one entry per day, and Ting will pay any early termination fee of up to $300. That’s a pretty sweet deal. After reading the official rules, it doesn’t appear that the winners are obligated to purchase Ting’s prepaid wireless services. Though, if you’re out of your contract you might consider it. They have some interesting deals.

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Comparing the data plans on the big four carriers

With AT&T announcing new GoPhone data pricing, it’s time to take another look at what the big four carriers are offering in terms of prepaid data. The industry is obviously growing, and big carriers are catching onto that. Even Verizon has grown savvy; next week they’ll unveil an $80 smartphone with a new data plan. So, which one of T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon provides the best deals for consumers?

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Prepaid smartphone sales gaining steam

When we post news of a new phone release from a prepaid carrier, there’s a good chance that it’s a smartphone. That’s for a few reasons. First, low-end phones don’t get as much play. You don’t see a press release or an Engadget post when Tracfone adds a new low-end phone to its lineup. Another reason, though, is that prepaid carriers are simply carrying more smartphones. They’re making inroads, too. According to a research report from Stevenson Company, 29 percent of prepaid phone purchases in 2011 were smartphones.

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The unfair assessment of e911 fees

As with all things in life, 911 services cost money. While our general tax dollars help fund 911 dispatch services, there’s also a specific tax on your phone bill that funds 911. This has extended to postpaid cell phones, wherein each phone line is charged an e911 fee. This helps fund not only the dispatch, but the technology necessary to locate users. Until recently, prepaid wireless users were exempt from this tax. There was just no easy way to assess it. A few years ago, however, some state legislatures decided to begin charge e911 fees. This comes at the point of sale of prepaid refill cards. It’s pretty easy to see, even with scant description, why this is unfair.

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Republic Wireless opens its doors for business

The day has finally arrived. Last week we heard about Republic Wireless, a service that advertised a deal that seemed too good to be true. For $19 per month they advertised unlimited voice, text, and data. They are technically an MVNO of the Sprint network, but their business model centers more on WiFi connections than on cellular signal. That is, when you’re connected to WiFi all of activity gets routed through that signal rather than the cell network. It’s an interesting proposition for sure, but we’ve seen deals like this in the past. Can Republic hold up as a viable service? Here are the details.

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Republic Wireless to offer $19 monthly unlimited service

Republic Wireless, a new MVNO operating on the Sprint network, plans to make a splash when it launches next week. Like many other MVNOs, they’ll offer monthly unlimited talk, text, and data services. Their edge: a price that no one currently approaches. They’ll charge just $19 for the service, effectively cutting in half the current best plans on the market. We’ve seen this before, of course, so it’s natural to question whether Republic Wireless will take the market by storm or it will bust.

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Cox will offer prepaid services

The 700MHz spectrum auction, which we covered heavily at the time, didn’t figure to produce many new carriers. The big guns, as expected, grabbed the bulk of the airwaves, leaving very little for newcomers. One of them was Cox, the cable provider. it appears, though, that it’s using its MVNO agreement with Sprint more than its own network. As FierceWireless’s Mike Dano reports, Cox plans a prepaid offering in the future. It’s not known how widely they’ll roll out and market the service — in fact, little is known at all. But it’s coming, and from the sound of the quotes it won’t be too far off.

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Georgia adds 75-cent 911 fee for prepaid card purchases

We’ve seen many states adopt laws that charge prepaid users fees for 911 services. It seems fair enough. Prepaid customers use 911 services just like postpaid users, and postpaid users have a 911 fee added to each month’s bill. The problem comes when trying to assess who pays and who does not. Ideally everyone would, but states simply do not have that type of jurisdiction. As with many other states that have implemented 911 fees for prepaid users, Georgia will add a fee at the point of sale, amounting to 75 cents per card purchased. Unfortunately, that doesn’t address the entire issue.

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Monthly plans the new trend in prepaid

When we started this site, and even when we started the blog, pay-as-you-go was the primary focus in prepaid. Monthly plans were the domain of the postpaid carriers, and while many prepaid services offered monthly plans, it always seemed as though pay-as-you-go was more popular. That, apparently, has changed. Phil Goldstein of FierceWireless reports on a J.D. Power and Associates study which shows that 49 percent of prepaid users are now using monthly plans, up from 30 percent in 2008. Why the change?

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Straight Talk for your business?

There’s an interesting read at TheStreet.com about how prepaid cell phone services sold at Walmart — namely Straight Talk — could be a viable option for small businesses. The author notes that the addition of two smartphones to the Straight Talk lineup put the company on small businesses’ radars. Still, it’s not an ideal solution. As the author says, ” Just don’t ask it to be a legit smartphone with all the attendant apps and fancy features.” How much, then, can handsets such as the Nokia E71 help small businesses? By providing an incremental step up the technological ladder at a reduced price?

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More consumers ready for prepaid switch

We’ve seen this trend going for the past year, maybe year and a half. People are switching from postpaid to prepaid. We see it in the quarterly earnings reports, where a number of companies — notably Sprint and T-Mobile — are seeing bigger prepaid adds than postpaid. We’re also seeing both Verizon and AT&T with growing MVNO subscribers. We could see more in the future. According to a recent survey, 20 percent of wireless customers will swith to prepaid within the next six months. That seems like an awfully large number, but it’s not one the prepaid sector should bank on.

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Verizon, AT&T add to numbers with resale partners

Overall the third quarter did not end well for Verizon. The nation’s largest wireless carrier added just under a million customers while its biggest rival, AT&T, added nearly 1.5 million. One big swing comes from carrier-branded prepaid additions. Verizon lost 137,000 prepaid subscribers, while AT&T added 321,000, a swing of 458,000 subscribers. Where Verizon gained was in subscriptions from resale partners. Verizon added 550,000 resale partner subscribers, while AT&T added 406,000.

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The Big Four/Five Prepaid Showdown

Things are changing in prepaid, especially for major carriers. For them, prepaid used to be an afterthought. They all offered plans, mainly to capture value at the margins. But now that prepaid wireless services have gained some steam, the big carriers are starting to pay attention. We’ve seen each of the big three — Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile — revamp their plans in the past few months. We’ve also seen Sprint make major strides with its two prepaid brands, Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile, and also add a third, Common Cents. But how do those offers stack up against one another?

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Besen Group predicts US will have largest MVNO data market

In the American telcom industry — or at least the media covering it — the acronym MVNO is viewed negatively. Everyone thinks back to the spree in the mid 00s and how so many of them failed. ESPN Mobile, Disney Mobile, and Amp’d Mobile just headline the list of virtual operators — those that buy minutes wholesale from major carriers — that closed shop. But if you look around, there are plenty of MVNO success stories. In the future there should be more. Back in 2008 I talked to Alex Besen of the Besen Group on the Prepaid Podcast. In it he predicted that MVNOs would succeed more when the wireless penetration rate plateaued. He’s looking more right on that. Now he’s made another prediction about the US MVNO market.

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Possible pitfalls in prepaid wireless plans

We spend most of our time touting prepaid services for their advantages, which are numerous. But as with all services, there are downsides. It wouldn’t be fair to play up only one end the of the issue, so today we’ll turn to Bill Snyder of CIO to discuss eight “gotchas” in prepaid wireless plans. Most of these are pretty basic, and a few of them are downright moot. But it’s worth the read, especially if you plan a switch to prepaid. After the jump we’ll go over a few of them.

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Prepaid news roundup

Some days the news brings one item remotely related to prepaid wireless. Other days we’re flooded with news. That has been the case lately. Here’s a rundown of all the stuff we haven’t yet covered today.

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BlackBerry options from prepaid carriers

In the past few years we’ve seen a number of carriers start offering data services, including some that go so far as to offer smartphones, including the BlackBerry. You can get a BlackBerry with three of our featured pay as you go cell phone providers, MetroPCS, Boost Mobile, and Virgin Mobile. We cover these plans in a new feature, Prepaid BlackBerry Options, which you can find under the Consumer Corner section of our sidebar. We’ll add Cricket wireless later this month after they make the Curve 8530 available.

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Prepaid services that offer data services

Last week, when we learned that Virgin Mobile would release a prepaid mobile hotspot, it really highlighted their data plans. They’re some of the best plans you can get on a prepaid basis. But it also made me think about the state of prepaid phone data. Virgin’s Broadband2Go plans are meant for use as laptop cards, not smartphone data. Unfortunately, prepaid data plans are tough to come by, as I’ve been reminded by many recent emailers. So which carriers do offer decent data plans?

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Prepaid Links: Indoor service and more

Sometimes as I’m going through my various sources I’ll come across some truly interesting stories. Most of the time these either aren’t completely pertinent to the prepaid realm, or otherwise don’t warrant their own posts. Today, in the absence of hard news, I thought I’d compile a few of them into a reading list of sorts. Prepaid users can certainly benefit from some of these.

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Indiana latest state to enact 911 fees for prepaid users

Pretty soon we’ll see most states levy a tax on prepaid cell phone users. Maybe we’ll see a few holdouts, but with many states struggling with their budgets this seems like a reasonable way to raise a little revenue. Indiana is the latest addition. Starting on July 1 they’ll start assessing a 25-cent fee on all purchase of prepaid phones and cards. That does leave prepaid users a little leeway. The state charges postpaid subscribers a 50 cent monthly fee. Prepaid users who top up once a month will obviously pay less, and those who stock up on minutes all at once will pay a fraction of that. Those who top-up weekly, however, will not enjoy this new fee, I don’t think.

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Google Voice now available for anyone in the U.S.

Last week I highlighted an enterprising prepaid user who utilized multiple plans and phones to fulfill his various cellular needs. At the end I mentioned that a Google Voice account would come in handy if one were to do this, because no matter which line you used people could reach you at a single number. At that time Google Voice was an invite-only service. Yesterday the company announced that Google Voice is now available to anyone in the U.S. That’s good news not just for power users like our friend from Howard Forums, but also for any prepaid user who switches carriers.

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How to really save money with prepaid

Since prepaid started to really make its mark on the wireless world a couple of years ago, we’ve seen many articles citing it as a way to save money. There are many, many people who don’t use their postpaid plans to the fullest, and could stand to benefit from a switch to prepaid. Depending on how much effort you put in, you can save tons and tons using prepaid, even if you don’t sign up for one of the trendy unlimited plans. Take this Howard Forums user for example. He has a nifty system that takes advantage of a few plans and combines them to make a heavy duty calling service.

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Wal-Mart increasing its cellular presence

If you run a search for “wal-mart prepaid phone” you’ll probably come across this article one we wrote years ago. Yes, Wal-Mart has been in the cell phone business for quite a while. Previously, they mainly sold packaged phones with add-on minutes. Now it appears they’re making a greater effort to make mobile phones a big part of their electronics department. True to the retail chain’s low-cost nature, Wal-Mart has chosen compatible partners, Straight Talk, a subsidiary of Tracfone that runs on the Verizon network, and Common Cents, a low-cost pay-as-you-go provider owned by Sprint. As Tom Cadorette of Motley Fool explains, this is all part of Wal-Mart’s big picture. It’s a short read outlining how Wal-Mart is expanding its cell phone business. Prepaid, it appears, is at least the beginning.

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Proposed legislation tries to curb customer service outsourcing

Customer service, for many people, represents the lowlight of cellular service. I know plenty of people who are totally satisfied with their prepaid service, but can do nothing but curse and scream after calling customer service. The most common complaint relates to the location of the call centers. Most companies outsource their customer service, and some find it difficult to understand the heavily accented representatives. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) has proposed legislation aimed at bringing these call centers back to U.S. soil.

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SouthernLINC in on $50 unlimited, too

The answer is yes, apparently. A week after I asked whether there was room for another unlimited services MVNO, another one, i wireless, popped up. Just a day later, we learn that a primary carrier, SouthernLINC, has unveiled a $50 unlimited plan of its own. This one includes the basic staples — unlimited talk and text — plus Push To Talk, web browsing, and, in July, picture messaging. That sounds like one of the better deals out there, though it is only available to customers in SouthernLINC’s primary coverage area.

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Proposed legislation would require registration for prepaid phones

It was only a matter of time before the federal government got involved in regulating prepaid phones. Apparently, it took an attempted bombing in Times Square to get them to hustle on it. AFP reports that lawmakers introduced a bill yesterday that would require users to present ID when purchasing prepaid mobile phones, and for the cellular companies to actually track user information, as they do with postpaid accounts. While the powerful telecom lobby will likely put pressure on congressmen and senators to vote down the bill, it could still be a hard fought battle at the capitol.

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Is there room for another unlimited MVNO?

During the past few weeks we saw a number of prepaid carriers revamp their plans. This caters to a growing segment of the market that wants simple plans with predictable costs. Many carriers, including T-Mobile and Virgin Mobile, went the unlimited route, providing their customers with flat-rate, unlimited services. Others, including PlatinumTel and Sprint subsidiary Common Cents, chose a pay-as-you-go option that features consistent rates. In other words, there’s no adjusting for different times of day. The rate is the rate is the rate. Best of all, the rate beats most of what else is out there. This has made me wonder if there is room for any more prepaid carriers.

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Are family plans the next prepaid frontier?

In a recent article for GigaOm, Colin Gibbs wonders what will happen when prepaid carriers start to carry data-intensive phones. We’ve seen a few prepaid BlackBerry offerings, but as Gibbs notes, even then data intensity might not be as big an issue. On the whole, though, there aren’t many, if any, prepaid phones that measure up to the iPhone and Android offerings that have captured the market. Eventually they’ll hit prepaid, at which point the major carriers will have to figure out what differentiates them. There is one issue, beyond smartphones, that postpaid carriers boast as an advantage, and it’s one that prepaid carriers could adopt.

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Both Verizon and AT&T could show strong prepaid growth in Q1

Now that the first quarter has come to a close, we wait patiently for each carrier to report its subscriber numbers. I’m particularly interested this quarter because of prepaid’s recent strength. As we learned in March, carriers added more prepaid subscribers than postpaid in the fourth quarter, so I’ve been wondering whether this trend will continue. According to Phil Goldstein at FierceWireless, that might very well be the case. He reports that both Verizon and AT&T will each add announce subscriber gains of around 1.5 million, but that only a third will be postpaid. Much of this prepaid gain will come in the form of wholesalers, but it represents growth nonetheless.

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Some notable trends in prepaid unlimited

Over the past year and a quarter, flat-rate unlimited plans have become the biggest trend in prepaid. It seems like every carrier has adopted one, making it seem like a completely different offering than pay-as-you-go plans. We’ve seen some movement in the flat-rate, unlimited market, including pricing shifts and new carriers. At RCR Wireless, Maidy Whitesell examines seven trends in the prepaid unlimited sector. It’s all stuff we’ve noted as it has happened, but she does a good job of putting everything in one place. It includes carriers having a nationwide network, offering unlimited everything, including text and data, and adding smartphones to their lineups. Hopefully at this point next year we’re talking about seven brand new trends in the prepaid wireless space.

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Another unlimited prepaid carrier emerges: Lightyear Wireless

While the big carriers have been touting their unlimited voice, messaging, and data services for a while now, a number of smaller carriers, including MVNOs of the larger carriers, have been making an impression as well. Over the past six months or so we’ve introduced a number of carriers going for this, including PlatinumTel and Simple Mobile (which will have a page this week). The latest into the fray is Lightyear Wireless. The company, which resells a number of communications services, will now offer flat-rate prepaid cellular services, using the Sprint nationwide network.

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More people searching for prepaid

Everything has been coming up prepaid lately. Not only did prepaid count for two out of every three new subscribers in the fourth quarter of 2009, but the prepaid sector greatly outgrew its postpaid counterpart. Recent research suggests that this trend might continue not only through the first quarter of 2010, but perhaps beyond. Hitwise Intelligence notes that searches for terms like “prepaid” and “pay as you go” in relation to wireless services increased during March. More people searching typically means more people buying, so we could see increased prepaid gains throughout 2010.

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More growth numbers for prepaid

Last week we saw a report that 65 percent of new net wireless adds in the fourth quarter were prepaid. Even better, we got some overall subscriber numbers for the bigger prepaid carriers. Not to be outdone by IDC Research, New Millennium Research Council released some more numbers yesterday. They cited the nearly two-thirds number, which we already knew. THey added, though, that the prepaid sector grew 54 percent during the fourth quarter, while postpaid grew just three percent. That’s to be expected, of course, considering prepaid accounts for roughly 18 percent of the overall U.S. wireless market. New Millennium believes that this trend “will continue into the first quarter of 2010 and will continue after the recession. With rumors of a new iPhone, including one on Verizon, plus a slew of Android handsets coming out this year, I’m not so sure about that.

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Majority of net new subscribers were prepaid in Q4 2009

The results from the fourth quarter of 2009 are in, and we’ve gone over the available numbers for prepaid carriers. They didn’t seem absurdly high, and in fact a few carriers missed their estimates. Even so, prepaid adds accounted for 65 percent of net new adds industry-wide in the fourth quarter, according to IDC. Then again, with Sprint losing customers and T-Mobile adding more prepaid subscribers than postpaid, this comes as less of a surprise. It appears that the efforts of carriers like MetroPCS, Cricket, and Boost Mobile paid off. We also found out some less reported statistics regarding total subscribers for the major prepaid carriers.

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