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Is data the future of prepaid unlimited?

At this time last year, prepaid unlimited plans seemed like they were the answer. Boost Mobile made the biggest splash with its $50 unlimited plan, but both MetroPCS and Cricket saw large gains in the first quarter. The craze was on, and we prepared to see continuing growth. After all, these plans beat their postpaid counterparts by considerable dollars. Why wouldn’t people move to prepaid?

As we learned not long thereafter, the craze did not catch on. Growth at all three carriers leveled out or completely dropped off, and by the third quarter MetroPCS added under 100,000 subscribers. So what can these companies do to fuel future growth?

Phil Goldstein of FierceWireless discusses data as the next step for prepaid unlimited growth. Most plans include unlimited Web right now, but that covers very basic browsing. When using data as a growth tool, Goldstein means a robust, full Web interface, much like we see on today’s smartphones. We’ve seen some movement on this front already, as Boost has added a BlackBerry to its lineup, and Verizon is rumored to be adding a prepaid BlackBerry plan of its own.

I’m not quite sure this will be the main focus, though. Yes, it appears prepaid unlimited carriers are trying a bit of everything, but typically smartphone users will suck it up and go with postpaid. It not only means getting the latest phones, but it means getting them a bit cheaper with the carrier subsidy. Sure, some customers will prefer to deal with prepaid, but I don’t think it will be a significant percentage.

Instead, if prepaid carriers want to grow they need to focus on servicing the customers they have. If you look at the user reviews on our pay as you go cell phone reviews, you’ll see endless complaints about customer service. Because subscribers are not tied to the carrier in any meaningful way, they can leave and go with another service, perhaps back to postpaid. Prepaid carriers need to take care of the customers they have and retain them. Perhaps then they’ll develop quality reputations and attract more customers, further fueling growth.

The future isn’t about price cuts or services that mimic postpaid. The future is about servicing the customer. Keep them happy and they will stay. Continue keeping them happy and they’ll tell their friends. With the quality of customer service in the wireless industry, it would be a competitive advantage.

One Response

  1. mike freeman Says

    Damn Straight Joe. When you don’t have an ETF gun cocked and aimed at your head you have no reason to stay and tolerate bad CS.


    Posted on February 25th, 2010 at 9:37 pm

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