Let the Carrier Price War Begin

When Sprint's prepaid division Boost offered a $50 unlimited "everything" plan in January it caused a stir but didn't initiate a price war because it was aimed at the low end of the market. Then T-Mobile introduced a $50 unlimited talk plan but only for loyal customers that had been with T-Mobile for 22 months. Then T-Mobile decided to expand and accelarate the rollout of the plan. 

Because of the limitations and qualifiers around these plans -- the Boost offering operates not on the Sprint network but only the slower and inferior Nextel network -- they didn't constitute the beginning of a price war, but were inching ever closer to one.

That's now changed in my mind because today prepaid carrier MetroPCS came forward with its own $50 unlimited offer (to match Boost): 

MetroPCS is also introducing two unlimited rate plans to support the BlackBerry Curve 8330 smartphone. The $50 personal rate plan, for use with the smartphone, will offer flat rate, unlimited talk, text, web browsing, MMS and BlackBerry email access through BlackBerry Internet Service. For an additional $10 per month enterprise customers can receive the same unlimited plan features on BlackBerry Enterprise Server. No other U.S. wireless carrier is offering an unlimited, no signed contract, flat rate plan for BlackBerry services at this price. Currently, these rate plans can provide customers over $550 in annual savings for BlackBerry service over certain national carriers. 

Though network quality and coverage are going to be issues for some, this is going to be pretty attractive for a lot of people: a BlackBerry with a $50 unlimited talk, text and mobile Internet plan. 

MetroPCS is a prepaid carrier and so not directly competitive with AT&T and Verizon. But I think the totality of these events now will compel a response from the majors. Sprint may be the first to "blink," given that they're already offering a $50 unlimited plan with Boost.

I think that in the US we're headed from $99 "all you can eat" to a $50-$60 price point for the same offering. All it will take is either Sprint mainstreaming that offer or T-Mobile extending its $50 talk deal to new customers to truly ignite the price war that I believe is now almost inevitable.  

My memory is that fewer than 20% in the US have formal data plans. You can bet those numbers would shoot up dramatically if these $50 plans go mainstream. 

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Boost is now pitching its "monthly unlimited plan" to college students.