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Again pondering a prepaid iPhone

When Apple and AT&T released the iPhone in 2007, they offered it without a carrier subsidy. That is, you had to pay the full retail price for the phone, which is something that we don’t normally see. Usually carriers offer a heavily discounted handset and get you to sign a two-year agreement in exchange. Without a subsidy, though, it appeared there was no incentive to sign a contract. At that point AT&T had a very popular $20 unlimited prepaid data plan, and there was a way to exploit the iTunes activation process. Things changed in time, though, and eventually AT&T decided to nix the iPhone on prepaid completely (though there were still ways around it). According to recent reports, compiled by Phil Goldstein at FierceWireless, Apple might have a prepaid iPhone plan of its own.

The idea of a prepaid iPhone is completely speculation at this point, but there have been reports of a low-cost iPhone in the works. Prepaid customers would clearly benefit from this more than postpaid ones. The iPhone costs $199 with the subsidy, which is standard for a smartphone on a major carrier. Would there be a great benefit in releasing a $50 iPhone to the same audience? Perhaps there is, but Apple could further spread its product by offering, say, a $300 iPhone on prepaid carriers such as Cricket and MetroPCS, or even on AT&T’s own GoPhone (now with a $50 plan).

It appears that analysts are already covering Apple’s every little move, so we could get more definitive information ahead of Apple’s announcement in August or September. Given what we’ve seen from Apple in the past, I’d temper my expectations in regards to a low-cost iPhone for prepaid carriers in the U.S. But with the major carriers already in tow, they could certainly shoot for other markets.