Sprint Wants Users to Get 4G Tablet Habit

Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) wants to encourage users to get in on the 4G tablet action by souping up existing data plans and adding some new options for these mobile devices.

"Starting on Sunday, Nov. 11, Sprint will introduce a variety of new, aggressively priced rate plans for 4G LTE-enabled tablets that offer customers up to 20 percent more data than Verizon or AT&T for the same price," the operator said in a statement.

The third-ranked operator is offering plans at $14.99 a month for 300MB of data, $34.99 for 3GB of data, $49.99 for 6GB of data and $79.99 for 12GB of data for 4G tablets such as the Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPad Mini. These plans are pay-as-you go, and don't require a contract.

Here's how the operator tablet data plans stack up now:

Table 1: Operator Tablet Plan Pricing
Operator AT&T Verizon Wireless Sprint
Tablet data plan bucket 250MB/3GB/5GB 1GB/2GB/5GB/10GB 300MB/3GB/6GB/12GB
Tablet data plan cost $14.99/$30/$50 $20/$30/$50/$80 $14.99/$34.99/$49.99/$79.99
Source: Operator data

Sprint has basically added a cheaper tier to its existing mobile broadband data pricing to undercut AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) by offering 50MB more for the same price on the cheapest plan. It already beat Verizon Wireless by offering more data for $20 less on the pricier side of the rate sheet.

The operator is also offering "mobile broadband passes" with the same prices and data caps as the 4G plans. These are aimed at customers who just want an occasional cellular connection -- if they are stuck on the road without access to Wi-Fi, for instance.

In a nod to its larger rivals' new shared data plans, Sprint is also allowing existing smartphones users to add a tablet to their existing plan, for a fee of course. Sprint subscribers can add a tablet to their account with a plan that includes 1GB of data for $15 per month or $10 per month for 100MB of data on the Sprint network. (See AT&T Joins Verizon in the Shared Data Pool.)

Sprint is also waiving the activation fee on all 3G and 4G LTE tablets "for a limited time."

Why this matters
Sprint appears to be betting that the iPad Mini, which starts at a cool $549 for a version with LTE, could be the first real tablet hit on 4G networks. The dirty little secret of previous tablets -- even popular devices like the iPad -- is that very few users get a data plan. Heavy Reading analyst Berge Ayvazian suggests that less than 10 percent of iPad users get a cellular plan to go with their device.

Nonetheless, Sprint has to get its messaging of somewhat cheaper pricing than its rivals out before customers decide on a GSM version (from AT&T) or a CDMA version (from Sprint or Verizon). The GSM version (Model A1454) does support CDMA, too, but not Sprint's 1900MHz flavor of LTE. The CDMA version (Model A1455) supports both Verizon's 700MHz LTE (band 13) and Sprint's band 25 variant.

So it appears possible that users could swap micro-SIMs and move between the two CDMA operators if they want to, as the tablets are sold subsidy-free at full price. Sprint would dearly love to take some high-spending data customers from Verizon if it could.

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— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Light Reading Mobile

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