Sprint's Data Happy Meal

Sprint PCS (NYSE: PCS) has finally delivered on its daring data pricing promises (see Sprint: Next-Gen Data Services Should Be Affordable) for the recently launched PCS Vision service (see Spr*nt Goes Co*st to Coa*t) with a $10 "all-you-can-eat" data service.

However, the new pricing plan may be only a temporary fixture, designed to entice real, live consumers onto the new CDMA 1xRTT network during the traditionally busy holiday period, rather than a permanent fixture.

Sprint now offers the cheapest wireless data plan in the U.S., beating out previous cut-rate champs Nextel Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: NXTL) and T-Mobile U.S. (see T-Mobile's Danger Money), although users have to buy a separate voice plan -- starting at $30 -- to take advantage of the offer.

Sprint PCS spokesperson Dan Wilinsky says customers had been finding the previous, pay-by-the-megabyte plans confusing. The carrier is hoping an inexpensive flat-rate plan will simplify matters. "We're trying to take the bite out of bytes," he quipped [groan].

Mark Lowenstein, managing director at wireless consulting firm Mobile Ecosystem, says Sprint is trying to pull ahead of rivals like AT&T Wireless Services Inc. (NYSE: AWE) and Verizon Wireless in what is "traditionally a big quarter for wireless." Sprint currently has better coverage and a wider choice of devices than do either AT&T or Verizon, Lowenstein notes.

"I think Sprint wanted to jump out in front and be aggressive on price," he says.

Lowenstein reckons that the average subscriber to the Sprint PCS network probably uses between 8MB and 10MB per month. He suspects that Sprint is positioning the service so the $10 price point (or something like it) can become the "basic" service, leaving the window open to charge more for "premium" services such as ringtones, alerts, or other applications that Sprint found to be popular over the holiday period.

Because it seems the $10 baseline price won't last forever, we asked Sprint how long they expected to offer the killer deal. "It's good through the holiday period," says Wilinsky, but he wouldn't make any promises beyond that. "I by no means expect this pricing to be permanent," says Lowenstein.

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung
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