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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?


Each carrier offers some sort of unlimited plan, which covers voice, text, or both. Some even include data. Here is how each carrier stacks up.

AT&T’s data rate includes only 200MB

Verizon and AT&T offer additional options for their unlimited plans. AT&T prepaid customers can pay $2 per day for unlimited talk and text. This works out to about the same as the monthly rate, except that the $2 daily fee only applies on days the phone is used. Usage includes made and received calls, instant messaging, and sent text messages. Verizon has the same idea, except it charges $3.99 per day and charges 1 cent per text message. So it’s not really an unlimited plan, after all, and it costs twice as much as AT&T’s. Additionally, Virgin Mobile offers unlimited text and data with limited voice plans.

These carriers also offer pay-as-you-go rates, each with a little catch. Common Cents replaces Virgin here, since Sprint clearly favors that brand for its pay-as-you-go arm.

This plan includes unlimited nights and weekends
T-Mobile charges 10 cents to send, 5 cents to receive text messages

Here again we see that Verizon has the highest rates of all. They’re the only remaining carrier that charges a daily access fee for pay-as-you-go rates. Even then, customers don’t get that 10 cents per minute rate unless they pay 99 cents per day. This is in stark contrast to AT&T and Boost Mobile, which charge 10 cents per minute without an access fee, and Common Cents, which charges 7 cents per minute and rounds down the seconds on calls (so a 1:59 call costs 7 cents). Even T-Mobile lags behind, as customers need to purchase $100 in refills in order to get the prime 10 cents per minute rate.

Looking at the available options, it appears as though Boost Mobile offers the best overall rates. The trick there is to go with CDMA, as their iDEN network simply isn’t as good. T-Mobile offers competitive rates, but they fall in just behind. AT&T has become more competitive with a $60 unlimited offer plus 10 cents per minute rates without an access fee. The combination of Virgin Mobile and Common Cents solidifies Sprint’s offerings.

Given this information and your preferences, which carrier do you prefer?