Verizon Wireless to launch $50 prepaid plan

The new plan would better compete with the prepaid arms run by Sprint Nextel, MetroPCS, and Leap Wireless.

Lance Whitney/CNET

Verizon Wireless plans to launch a cheaper contract-free plan nationally this week, allowing it to better compete for bargain-seeking consumers.

The nation's largest wireless carrier will offer the plan, which includes unlimited calling, text messages and Internet use for $50 a month and is known as "Unleashed," on Thursday, according to the Dow Jones Newswires. The offer will be available in Verizon stores, Best Buy, Wal-Mart and Target.

Verizon's move underscores the growing allure of the prepaid business as one of the last areas of growth in the wireless industry. Verizon has long held a lackluster attitude toward the prepaid business, instead preferring to focus on adding more contract customers. But with the post-paid business slowing, Verizon can't ignore prepaid anymore.

Verizon had been testing out the $50 plan in select markets. But the launch would represent a major move into prepaid for the carrier.

The area has been dominated by regional carriers such as MetroPCS and Leap Wireless. Sprint Nextel has also had a large presence in the area with its Virgin Mobile and Boost Mobile prepaid arms.

While Verizon is making its move to the lower end, it is still far from the cheapest option. The carrier is offering the plans with four phones from Samsung Electronics, LG Electronics, and Pantech, none of them are smartphones, so the Web-browsing capabilities are limited.

In comparison, the other prepaid players offer smartphones with their plans. MetroPCS offers a smartphone and unlimited data for $40 a month. Boost offers a plan for as little as $35.