U.S. Cellular adds unlimited plan for prepaid users

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Like most other unlimited plans, U.S. Cellular’s new offering comes with noteworthy restrictions.

U.S. Cellular added a so-called unlimited plan to its prepaid offerings as the battle over all-you-can-eat services continues to heat up.

The operator launched a $70 unlimited data plan for prepaid users, adding it to its existing plans of $35 a month for 1 GB of data and $45 a month for 5 GB of data. U.S. Cellular prepaid customers can also add unlimited talk and text to Mexico and Canada for an extra $10 a month.

“With these simplified plans we are providing value and flexibility to our prepaid customers, while also giving them an unlimited option so they can use their phone however they want,” said Grant Leech, U.S. Cellular’s vice president of brand management, in a press release. “Unlimited data doesn’t mean anything without a network that can keep up with people’s busy lifestyles, so we provide a fast 4G LTE network that works when and where our customers need it.”

Like most other unlimited plans, U.S. Cellular’s new offering comes with noteworthy restrictions. Video is streamed at standard definition speeds rather than HD, and speeds are slowed to 2G once users have reached 22 GB in a month.

U.S. Cellular joined its bigger rivals in the unlimited-data market in February, launching new plans including a single line of unlimited data for $60 a month. Accounts with four lines pay $160 a month, or $40 per line. The new plans, which are available to both new and existing customers with autopay and paperless billing, don’t impose activation fees, monthly device connection charges or upgrade fees.

T-Mobile and Sprint launched the first salvos last August when they introduced so-called “unlimited” data plans, sparking a war between the nation’s largest carriers that has escalated significantly in recent months. Verizon finally joined the battle a few weeks ago in a move that marked a significant about-face in strategy, and AT&T said just a few days later that it was expanding its unlimited offering to all customers after limiting it exclusively to subscribers of its DirecTV service.

The unlimited war escalated last month when AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint all extended their offerings to prepaid users. All that promotional activity underscores a prepaid market that has become extremely competitive over the last two years as the economics gap between prepaid and postpaid continues to narrow. Carriers are seeing prepaid ARPU increasing even as their monthly average revenues from postpaid users wane.