Cricket's iPhone Leap of Faith
Leap Wireless International Inc. (Nasdaq: LEAP) subsidiary Cricket Communications Inc. became the latest carrier to nab the iPhone 4 and 4S Thursday, but unlike Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL)'s other partners, it's offering the phones on a pre-paid basis.
Starting on June 22, Cricket will sell the iPhone with its $55 "unlimited" data plan that slows speeds at 2.3GB. The plan is $25 to $65 per month cheaper than its rivals offer, but the phone itself will set users back nearly $300 more at $500 for the 16GB iPhone 4S and $400 for the iPhone 4.
Why this matters
Cricket is the first to offer a pre-paid iPhone, but it paid for the privilege. According to its Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing, the carrier committed to a minimum volume worth $900 million over three years. That's a big bet considering its serving a price-sensitive customer base. The iPhone will also be limited to Cricket's regional CDMA footprint and won't work nationwide via its Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) arrangement.
Those are big limitations, but Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Inc. analyst Craig Moffett says Cricket's gamble will likely pay off. He notes that Cricket didn't have to commit to the same outlandish minimums that Sprint had to, and it's not changing up its low-subsidy business model much for the phone either. (See Sprint Losses Mount on 4G Upgrades & iPhones and Sprint Sees iPhone Subsidies as Necessary Evil.)
"The lifetime cost of owning the device could very well be lower than post-paid iPhone plans, giving Leap the opportunity to poach low-end post-paid subscribers from the national carriers," Moffett writes in a research note. "There are pros and cons potential customers will have to consider (speed on CDMA compared to HSPA, data limits, geographic coverage, brand, etc.), but Leap's 3G network is relatively solid and should put them in a good position to compete on this front."
Oh, and did we mention T-Mobile US Inc. still doesn't have Apple's iconic device?
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