U.S. Cellular is the latest carrier to bring smartphones to its prepaid subscribers.
The regional carrier launched the LG Optimus U for $199.99 for prepaid subscribers and the LG Apex for $249.99 for prepaid customers (the phones are $29.99 and $49.99, respectively, when paired with a two-year contract and after an $80 mail-in rebate). U.S. Cellular also unveiled new prepaid data plans to go with the gadgets: Customers can choose unlimited messaging, 2 GB of data and 450 voice minutes for $60 per month and can upgrade that with unlimited voice for $70. Customers who want to just talk and text can get unlimited minutes and messaging for $50.
U.S. Cellular lost 31,000 net subscribers in the fourth quarter, compared with net subscriber additions of 10,000 in the year-ago period. However, the carrier has argued there is room for greater smartphone penetration this year.
With its new plans, U.S. Cellular joins a growing roster of carriers pushing smartphones to prepaid subscribers, who have historically lacked access to the hottest handsets. AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) will launch the Android-powered LG Thrive for $179.99 on April 17 for its GoPhone prepaid customers. Separately, Sprint Nextel's (NYSE:S) Boost Mobile prepaid brand recently launched its first CDMA Android smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy Prevail.
All of the new prepaid smartphone launches put pressure on flat-rate carriers MetroPCS (NASDAQ:PCS) and Cricket provider Leap Wireless (NASDAQ:LEAP), which began increasing the number of smartphones in their lineups last fall. Both flat-rate providers intend to make smartphones a centerpiece of their offerings this year.
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U.S. Cellular loses 31K subscribers in Q4, pins hope on smartphones
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