Sprint revamps prepaid with cheaper plans, new phones

The new Sprint Prepaid includes less expensive plans -- with caveats -- and smartphone options including a "Spark" device able to access higher LTE speeds.

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Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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Roger Cheng
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Mysterious Sprint Spark phone
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Sprint is triple-downing on prepaid.

On Friday, Sprint introduced Sprint Prepaid, a revamped take on an existing program that includes less expensive plans -- with caveats -- and new options for smartphones, including a "Spark" device able to access higher LTE speeds.

Sprint Prepaid represents yet another push by the carrier to reinforce its position in the prepaid market, complementing its two other brands, Virgin Mobile and Boost Mobile, both of which attack slightly different demographics of consumers. The launch comes at a time when its business is under siege by T-Mobile, which offers its own expanding prepaid brand in MetroPCS, and when AT&T is preparing to take a bigger step into prepaid with its just-completed acquisition of Leap Wireless.

Sprint Prepaid is designed for consumers who want a no-contract offer without credit checks, but aren't necessarily comfortable with a prepaid brand, and would prefer to stick with a national carrier like Sprint, the company said. Unlike Virgin or Boost, Sprint Prepaid will be offered at Sprint stores.

There are two plans available to customers: A $45 monthly plan that includes unlimited talk and text messages, but no data (you'll have to hop on a Wi-Fi network to check your email or browse the Internet); and a $60 plan that includes unlimited talk and text messages, as well as 2.5 gigabits of high-speed data. Sprint reserves the right to slow the connection to 3G for video streaming.

On price alone, the plans are better priced than the options offered last year, when Sprint introduced Sprint "As You Go." Sprint previously offered a $70 smartphone plan with unlimited voice, messaging, and 3G data (within Sprint's network), as well as a $50 basic phone plan with the same features.

The new plans also allow customers to tap into the faster 4G LTE network, including its enhanced Spark network. The smartphones available for Sprint's prepaid plan are the Spark-enabled Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini, the LTE-capable Galaxy S3, and the 3G-enabled Moto G.

While Sprint's prepaid option gets wider distribution than its prepaid brothers, both Virgin Mobile and Boost Mobile offer more attractive deals and more phone options. The two prepaid provides also run on the same Sprint network and can also access LTE.

The Apple iPhone 4S will also be another option, but customers need to sign up for the more expensive $60 plan with that device.

Sprint Prepaid customers will be able to participate in the company's Buyback program, which allows them to turn in devices to earn account credits toward a new phone or service.

Alongside the prepaid service, Sprint unveiled Sprint Money Express, a mobile-banking service on Android phones that allows customers to send money, load checks, and pay bills through the phone. The service comes with a Sprint-branded Visa prepaid card that ties into the account.

In January, T-Mobile introduced a similar offer, designed for lower end customers without access to banking services.

Sprint is offering other services such as insurance, directory assistance, and international calling and texting for an extra fee that a customer would pay in advance.