The company announced Friday that it is offering some subscribers unlimited wireless Web surfing for $10 a month, added to what they already pay for mobile services.
The unlimited-access offer makes Sprint the latest U.S. cell phone carrier to pump up efforts to attract more customers to wireless Web services, which so far have failed to generate much enthusiasm.
"In the cellular industry, it's finally sinking in that people do not want to figure out 'packets,' and they don't want to watch their minutes when they use data," said Alan Reiter, an analyst with Wireless Internet & Mobile Computing, a consulting company.
The new Sprint offer matches the lowest price charged for unlimited Web access by any of the five major U.S. cell phone carriers. T-Mobile offers owners of its $199handheld device a $40-a-month plan that includes unlimited use of the wireless Web plus 200 voice minutes and 1,000 weekend minutes.
Sprint's $10 offer is available to consumer and business subscribers to its PCS Free & Clear plans who have a PCS Vision phone. The least expensive Free & Clear plan is $30 a month for 200 daytime calling minutes and unlimited talk time during the evening and on weekends. PCS Vision phones run from $150 to $240.
Sprint's unlimited-data plan can be used with any of about a dozen different PCS Vision phones as well as with three different laptop modems. T-Mobile's offering is available on just the Sidekick device.Wireless carriers have been selling wireless Web access on phones and laptops for at least two years. The new services are supposed to recoup the costs of building new cell phone networks to keep up with growing demand for wireless phones.
But carriers have had trouble getting people interested in the wireless Web. According to various estimates, fewer than 10 million of the nation's 140 million cell phone owners do any phone-based Web surfing. The small monochrome screens, clunky interfaces and the difficulty of using a phone keypad to type a Web address are partly to blame, but pricing has also been a deterrent.
Carriers first sold wireless Web access by the minute, or by the amount of data downloaded--significant stumbling blocks to adoption for customers used to "all you can eat" Web access via their home and work PCs.
"If you're going to sell a wireless Internet experience, you're going to have to match (the) expectations of Internet users," Reiter said.
Verizon Wireless was the first to introduce an plan. It charges $99 a month for unlimited use of its Express Network, which offers Web surfing at speeds rivaling dial-up services. Voice calls cost an additional 69 cents a minute.
Nextel Communications began selling unlimited Web access on May 1. It charges $54 a month for the plan, which doesn't include any voice minutes.
Cingular Wireless charges by the amount of data downloaded. The prices range from $7 for 1MB of data downloaded a month to $49 for 13MB. Wireless Web access is available to any Cingular Wireless voice-calling subscriber. Plans start at $20 a month. A Cingular Wireless representative had no comment Friday on whether the company will make an unlimited-data offering.
Verizon, Nextel and T-Mobile did not comment on Sprint PCS's new plan.