Wednesday, July 23, 2008

UPDATED: Net10 Intros Unlimited!

Looks like Net10 dropped a bit of a bomb on the cellular market today...see this post...

...or not.

Because I'm ecstatic...

That Net10, whose coverage mirrors that of Verizon on-contract or AT&T on-contract depending on where you are (in other words pretty much everywhere), and whose phones aren't downright overpriced or underpowered, has introduced an unlimited plan!

It gets better...

Not only is the plan contract-free, it also includes text messaging! Okay, so there's no mention of picture messaging so I'm assuming that they'll keep charging for that, but text is usually a $10 or $20 a month option on top of voice service, and they've included it.

The price? $79.98 per month.

The offer isn't available in all areas; it's GSM-only. But that's still great, because AT&T's coverage area (contract-class remember?) is HUGE. Also, text messaging is included in the monthly price, as is the otherwise-half-a-unit-per-minute web browsing charge. Subscription services (on Tracfone's limited mobile web), ringtones, graphics, games and MMS still aren't free, but on MMS you don't have to pay the data charge so messages are just 10 cents apiece. Pretty good deal if you ask me.

Let's compare the current prepaid unlimited plans...

Net10 - $79.98 for talk and text, cheap MMS, limited web browsing full AT&T network
Virgin Mobile - $79.99 for talk, $10 extra for messaging (text, picture, IM, certain e-mail), Sprint network only
Page Plus - $60-$62 or $75-$77 for talk, depending on the area, Verizon network only
Others - Sprint network only, usually $70+ per month
Boost - $50 for talk, $60 for talk and text, $70 for talk, text and web, Sprint network only, limited to a single region

...and contract plans...where taxes and fees abound...

Sprint - $89.99 for talk and messaging (text, picture)
T-Mobile - $99.99 for talk and messaging (text, picture), $50 per month for additional lines, FlexPay may be available but with more expensive phones and slightly less coverage
Verizon & AT&T - $99.99 for talk only, $20 extra for messaging (text, picture, etc.), no additional-line discount, Net10 runs on the AT&T network for less!

So if you don't send and receive picture messages, Net10 could actually save you $40 a month over a CONTRACT plan with the same underlying carrier! That's not even accounting for the taxes and fees that are piled onto the contract plans, which would probably be around $20 per month. No activation fees either.

This, along with Virgin and Page Plus's options, are the first reasons that high-minute users might actually want to switch to prepaid rom a contract plan. If the word gets out, contract providers will have to play catch-up, which means good things for everybody.

Granted, Boost, CricKet, MetroPCS, other smaller unlimited carriers and in some cases Page Plus can provide cheaper rates for unlimited service versus Net10, but none of these can offer as much coverage, and Page Plus doesn't offer unlimited text messaging. The phones on everyone but Page Plus tend to be quite expensive as well.

Speaking of phone prices, here's Net10's current lineup:

$79.99 - LG 225 (camera flip w\external display)
$69.99 - Motorola w375 (camera Bluetooth though to my knowledge)
$59.99 - LG 1500 (flip w\external display)
$49.99 - Motorola w370 (flip)
$49.99 - LG 200 (CDMA flip)

There are other phones available as well (the LG 300 is available at Wal-Mart for $30 including an accessory kit).

One caveat of the plan is that you can't buy a card for it in a store; you have to buy online. Also it may not be available everywhere. Last, it's voice and text only until my testing (or someone else's) proves otherwise.

Whatever you make out of this, it's pretty clear that Tracfone has dropped a bombshell into the prepaid, nay, the whole cellular industry with this plan. There's no longer a coverage or price-per-minute sacrifice when making the jump to prepaid. Phone selection will likely follow. For the price of a contract activation fee you can get a "free phone" from Net10 with 300 minutes and 60 days to try out the service. That's longer than any contract provider's tryout window I've heard of. If you want a higher-end phone, you buy one for $70, something a contract provider would insist was $34.99. Granted, the Motorola w375 isn't a really high-end unit, but there's no contract either. Plus, the outlay on the phone now is reversed by the lack of taxes, fees and just plain monthly basic charges for the unlimited phone bill.

In comparison, $80 a month would likely get you only 900 minutes (with unlimited nights, weekends and mobile to mobile) on a contract plan, with no messaging of any sort, after taxes and fees are taken into account. Okay, maybe 200 messages, but not unlimited.

As I was saying, this whole thing is rather game-changing. Or maybe I'm just excited.

By the way, thanks to the forum members who spotted this, and if you're trying to figure out how to buy a Net10 phone online check this link out, You can get a refurbished Motorola c261 cameraphone (which is decent, see my review of it) for $29.99 including $30 in airtime. Very nice.

Thanks to The Sweeper for the information and the update! I guess this confirms that AT&T (and mybe T-Mobile?) is giving Net10 a very good deal on minutes because unlimited service is not available in CDMA areas, but still, this option is just great.

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