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U.S. Cellular offering phones for free

For a limited time, regional carrier U.S. Cellular is giving away its phone to new customers, including BlackBerry and Android models.

U.S. Cellular logo

Why buy a phone when you can get one for free? It seems too good to be true, but regional carrier U.S. Cellular is giving away cell phones this Friday as part of its "All Phones Free" campaign.

The sale, which runs from December 17 to 24, includes all messaging phones and smartphones, including Android and BlackBerry models. To top it off, U.S. Cellular is granting new smartphone customers a $100 credit for joining up with the carrier for the first time, or for adding a new smartphone to their existing plans.

Of course, there is a catch. Two, actually. The sale price is only good "as long as supplies last," and you will be responsible for paying your monthly data plan. It's a good guess that U.S. Cellular is dangling the free phone carrot for two reasons as well: signing on new users (the evergreen goal) and clearing out some inventory to make way for newer phones. I'm putting my money on LTE-capable devices we could hear about in January at CES.

I have to admire U.S. Cellular's gusto. The sixth-largest U.S. carrier has shown some gumption in 2010 in introducing the Belief Project, and its customer service strategy has paid off, bringing the carrier in front of Verizon Wireless as this year's top-rated provider offering service contracts, according to a Consumer Reports survey.