A little over a year ago, Sprint unveiled something pretty radical: One full year of free unlimited service when you bring your own phone.
It was, of course, intended to be a limited-time offer. But guess what? It's still available. Update: As of April 4, 2019, this offer is no longer available.
This is not to be confused with Sprint's other recent headline-making plan -- unlimited service for $15 per month -- which was discontinued back in June. It was available for anyone, not just folks switching from another carrier.
But let's talk about that free plan, because surely there must be some strings, catches, hooks, gotchas and whatnot.
Not really. The plan remains startlingly generous: You can keep your current phone (provided it's compatible, natch -- meaning it needs to be unlocked and support Sprint's CDMA bands) and your current phone number.
In fact, the latter is a key requirement: You can't set up a new line of service; you must port a number from AT&T, T-Mobile or Verizon. (If your phone doesn't currently have active service elsewhere, you may be able to work around that. See below.) Can you port in from a smaller carrier? If it's not a Sprint MVNO (like, say, Boost Mobile), the answer is: Probably. I'm on Cricket Wireless (an AT&T MVNO), and when I plugged in my IMEI number, Sprint said I was eligible.
How free is free?
So what's actually included in this free plan, and what will it really cost? The plan affords one full year of Sprint Unlimited, which nets you unlimited calls, texts and 4G LTE data, including DVD video streaming. The offer previously covered 1080p video streaming, but that appears to have gone away now that Sprint's $60 per month Unlimited Basic plan sticks to the lower resolution. But unlike Unlimited Basic or Sprint's more expensive plans, this free plan won't include a subscription to Hulu either.
The free plan no longer includes the Mobile Hotspot feature, which is disappointing since the original free year included 10GB of that feature. Sprint's Unlimited Basic plan includes just 500MB of that by comparison.
As for costs, you'll pay $2.99 for a SIM card and $10 for overnight shipping. You'll also have to pay that $30 activation fee, but you'll get it back after two months. Beyond that, Sprint charges a "standard $1.99 admin fee and $0.40 regulatory fee," and "other taxes and fees apply" as well.
In other words, plan on spending around $3 to $4 per month to keep this "free" line active.
After your first year, you'll be moved to the Unlimited Basic plan at regular rates: $60 per month, with price breaks per line if you have additional ones. (For example, $40 for the second line, $20 for the third through fifth lines.)
How to get the Sprint deal if you don't have an existing number
As noted above, this offer is good only if you're porting in an active number from another (non-Sprint) carrier. But what if you have a phone that doesn't currently have service (and, therefore, a number)?
There may be a workaround. When I was trying to take advantage of a similar deal from Virgin Mobile (a Sprint MVNO), I was able to port in a Google Voice number. Here's how you may be able to do likewise:
Step 1: If you don't already have one, get a Google Voice number. It's free.
Step 2: Unlock the number so it can be ported to Virgin Mobile. You can do this by visiting www.google.com/voice/unlock and following the steps there. There's a $3 unlocking fee. Once you receive the confirmation message, take a screenshot. You probably won't need it, but it's a good thing to have just in case.
Step 3: Call Sprint (866-782-8777) and ask to sign up for the free Unlimited plan. (Alas, you still can't sign up online, as the Google Voice number isn't technically registered to your phone's IMEI number.) When the representative asks for your phone number and carrier, say it's Google Voice.
Again, I can't promise this will work, but it did for Virgin Mobile. (Share your success or failure stories in the comments.)
Originally published on June 13, 2017.
Update, April 23: To reflect that the free year offer is no longer available.