Leap overhauls voice plans, intros tiered data pricing

As expected, Cricket provider Leap Wireless (NASDAQ:LEAP) launched its BlackBerry Curve 8530 for $299, and also overhauled pricing for its voice and data plans. Importantly, the company introduced a tiered pricing model for data, again highlighting the industry trend toward charging users on a per-byte basis.

Click here for full details on Leap’s new pricing plans.Leap's new broadband pricing essentially makes official a test the carrier began in April. Leap is now offering 2.5 GB of data for $40 per month, 5 GB for $50 per month or 7.5 GB for $60 per month. Previously, Leap offered 5 GB for $40 per month.

Interestingly, Leap isn't charging overage fees for data; if a user goes over his or her allotted data for the month, Leap can slow that user's connection speed down from its advertised maximum of 1.4 Mbps.

Leap's actions come shortly after AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) shook up the industry with the introduction of tiered data pricing. For smartphones, AT&T offers 200 MB for $15 per month or 2 GB for $25 per month, and users can purchase additional buckets of data in each billing cycle. Analysts widely expect other carriers to follow suit, as users' data demands continue to outstrip network capacity.

On the voice side, Leap essentially raised the price of each of its tiers of service by $5 per month. Instead of a $30 entry-level option, Leap's plans now start at $35 per month for talk and text. The carrier's old $40 per month plan is now $45, and its $50 is now $55. The carrier introduced a $60 per month BlackBerry plan that includes talk, text and data that mirrors a similar offering from Leap rival MetroPCS (NYSE:PCS).

According to research firm Current Analysis, Leap's new set of plans now include taxes and telecom fees, and there is no longer a $15 activation fee. The carrier also eliminated its promotional offering of a free first month of service.

With the launch of Research In Motion's (NASDAQ:RIMM) BlackBerry, Leap now joins the ranks of smartphone carriers. And Leap also has promised to add the Android-powered Kyocera Zio to its lineup in the fall, as well as other smartphones. Leap's BlackBerry phone requires a $60 per month service plan, while its Android offerings require a $55 per month service plan.

While Leap tinkers with its 3G data pricing, the carrier is keeping its eyes on a 4G future. Leap spokesman Greg Lund told FierceWireless that Leap conducted a successful test of LTE network technology in San Diego with equipment from Huawei, and said the carrier likely will conduct more tests later this year.

"We don't have to rush (toward LTE). We can be careful," Lund said, adding that "it doesn't mean we're not doing due diligence."

For more:
- see these three releases
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)

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