AT&T on Friday joined T-Mobile in offering 5G connections to its prepaid customers.
Meanwhile, Verizon said it continues to make its 5G service available only to its postpaid users.
And, according to analysts, Verizon probably isn't missing much.
"5G is a nothingburger in prepaid," explained analyst Jeffrey Moore, principal of Wave7 Research, a research and consulting firm that carefully tracks US operators' postpaid and prepaid business offerings. "People are not going to pony up $1,000 bucks for a phone in prepaid, let's be honest."
The US wireless industry has long been bifurcated between customers who pay for services before they use them (prepaid) and those who pay for services after they use them (postpaid). Operators generally score far more revenues from postpaid customers, while prepaid services are often sold to cash-strapped and credit-challenged consumers.
Nonetheless, T-Mobile did not withhold its 5G services from its prepaid customers. When it launched 5G late last year, it made the service available to both its postpaid customers under its T-Mobile brand as well as its prepaid customers under its Metro by T-Mobile brand.
AT&T this week joined T-Mobile in offering 5G on its own prepaid brand, Cricket Wireless. "Cricket Wireless customers nationwide can now enjoy the 5G network," the operator wrote in a release, noting that it's now selling the Samsung Galaxy S20+ 5G phone for a whopping $1,200.
"We don't currently offer 5G on prepaid devices," a Verizon representative wrote to Light Reading Friday in response to questions on the topic. A representative from Visible – Verizon's all digital prepaid brand – also confirmed that 5G is not available through the company's service.
However, Visible does sell 5G-capable phones, though it doesn't connect them to Verizon's 5G network. "Visible runs on Verizon's 4G LTE network, but these devices are 5G compatible," Visible explains on its website of the Samsung Galaxy S20 phones.
AT&T's Cricket, T-Mobile's Metro and Verizon's Visible are the three main prepaid brands offered by the nation's big wireless network operators. But there are lots of other prepaid brands in the US industry that aren't owned and operated by one of these big operators, including TracFone, Consumer Cellular, Boost Mobile and others. Many offer 5G services, but Wave7's Moore said few prepaid customers have shown interest in 5G given the considerable cost of most 5G phones.