Carriers continue to take a conservative tack with their promotional efforts for the latest iPhone models, but there’s still a wide disparity in the cost of devices and plans from service provider to service provider.
Then again, that isn’t really surprising.
With the new models slated to go on sale Friday, WhistleOut calculated the price of 10 iPhone models along with unlimited data over a two-year period and across five service providers: the major U.S. carriers plus Virgin Mobile. The market research firm “normalized” all carrier offers, including the temporary promotions from Sprint and Virgin Mobile, in an effort to best compare apples to apples.
Predictably, Virgin—a Sprint prepaid brand that sells nothing but iPhones, and the only prepaid service provider in WhistleOut’s survey—was something of an outlier on the cheap end for iPhone models ranging from the SE to the upcoming flagship iPhone X. WhistleOut found a disparity of $1,639 among the major network operators, with Sprint offering the cheapest packages and AT&T offering the most expensive.
Buying an iPhone 8 64 GB on Virgin’s $1 plan for 12 months of service costs $1,300 over two years, for instance, while two years of AT&T service on the same model and on that carrier’s equipment installment plan costs $2,720.
WhistleOut’s study examined only “full-speed” unlimited plans from each carrier, excluding taxes, fees and autopay discounts. And it’s worth noting the firm used Virgin’s promotional plan that ends next week.
“The numbers show that it pays to be selective when choosing an iPhone and a plan to go with it,” WhistleOut co-founder Cameron Craig said in a press release. "Pairing the iPhone X with an AT&T unlimited plan will set you back far more than an iPhone 6S on Virgin Mobile, or even Sprint. However, there are tradeoffs in network quality, so it really comes down to what you’re willing to pay for.”
Like T-Mobile, Sprint has effectively used aggressive promotions to steal market share from its bigger rivals in recent months, and earlier this week it sweetened its latest offer on the iPhone 8 in a move that may prove to mark an opening salvo among carriers as the holiday season approaches. Whether Sprint’s rivals will respond in kind isn’t certain, of course, but a similar analysis could look very different just a few weeks from now.