Mobile Crunch reported Wednesday that Sprint’s pre-paid brand, Virgin Mobile, was readjusting their rate plans. As mobile aficionado Jordan Crook reported, Virgin Mobile has added $10 to their $300 minute plan, $5.00 to the 1200 minute plan and knocked $5 off their unlimited plan.
Right now Virgin Mobile tops out with 3G and has no current 4G service. The only competitor in the prepaid space offering any kind of 4G is MetroPCS which has built out their own 4G/LTE network. Cricket Wireless is reportedly testing 4G in some areas as well.
More after the break
While attending CE Week NY a couple of weeks ago we got into a really long conversation with one of our great Sprint contacts. We were talking about Sprint’s opposition to the AT&T/T-Mobile merger and then got to talking about the reported deal with LightSquared to do 4G/LTE on Sprint.
Like Verizon, Sprint’s CDMA technology is not compatible with 4G/LTE, that’s why Sprint would need a partner, such as LightSquared, to build out their 4G/LTE footprint, much in the same way that Verizon has needed to build out a 4G/LTE network. While WiMax is often thought of as the underdog in the 4G race it was the first 4G technology to market and they have attracted millions of customers to it.
Currently Sprint devices like the Overdrive have both 3G and 4G capability. On these devices the 3g is capped and the WiMax stays “unlimited”. Speed tests of Sprint’s WiMax service prove that it is a contender. We typically see between 5 and 7 mbps down while in New York, Baltimore and other major WiMax markets.
So what happens to that WiMax network if and when Sprint moves to 4G/LTE? Well one hypothesis we came up with was that they would use the WiMax technology to roll out 4G service to Sprint’s prepaid brands including Virgin Mobile and Boost Mobile. When Clearwire originally rolled out WiMax their footprint was mostly medium markets, however after Sprint came on board they quickly added most of the major cities. The WiMax footprint would cover a lot of the urban areas that have a high saturation of customers for both Virgin and Boost.
While our Sprint contact didn’t directly confirm this hypothesis he did say that we may be on to something. As we said above, Sprint was the first carrier to offer any kind of 4G so we found it odd that their prepaid brands weren’t following suit. Prepaid is currently the highest growth segment among most carriers. Sprint is most likely waiting to finalize 4G/LTE plans before they make a move to upgrade Virgin and Boost to 4G service, however when they do the network is already there.