Sprint’s New Cheap Phone Plans: Here’s the Catch

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Sprint is falling behind the other major wireless carriers in the United States, so it’s pulling out all the stops to get customers to switch to its network from the top three carriers. Now through January 7, 2016, customers who switch to Sprint will get prices that are 50% lower than the rates that they’re paying for their current plan.

That sounds like a good deal — but there’s a catch. Jon Brodkin reports for Ars Technica that while Sprint’s desperation to compete with AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon could work in your favor when it comes to the price of your plan, Sprint’s plans don’t come with the same perks as those offered by its competitors. And that can make a big difference.

As Brodkin explains, if you’re switching from Verizon, you’ll choose from a rate card that offers the same data allotments as Verizon but at half the cost. Customers switching from AT&T or T-Mobile will choose from a separate card; everybody has to pick from rates specific to their current carrier. So far, so good.

But there are a few downsides. For one, Sprint says that it won’t match other carriers’ offers for data rollover. It also isn’t matching T-Mobile’s unlimited music and video streaming offers (though it points out that it also isn’t restricting video quality, like T-Mobile is to offer Binge On). Sprint also isn’t offering a half-off version of T-Mobile $95 unlimited high-speed data plan, though it already does offer unlimited data for $70 per month.

What you’ll get with Sprint does depend on the policy of your current carrier, particularly when it comes to data you use beyond your monthly allotment. If you switch from T-Mobile, you’ll get unlimited 2G-speed data after you use up your high-speed data. But if you switch from AT&T or Verizon, which use hard data caps with overage charges, you’ll pay overages of 1.5¢ per megabyte.

Sprint’s announcement said that the half-off plans don’t include tethering, but the carrier told Ars Technica that that statement was a mistake, and that customers will be able to use their phones as mobile hotspots while drawing data from their monthly allotments. While Sprint chief executive Marcelo Claure used the word “contract” to describe the two-year price guarantee in a call with reporters, a Sprint spokesperson told Ars Technica that customers won’t have to sign a contract to get the pricing.

Before you decide to switch, it’s important to read the fine print, which states that you’ll have to pay an additional $25 per month when you get a subsidized phone instead of paying the full cost of the device. Customers who don’t bring their own phones can get a new device through Sprint’s various payment plans. It’s worth noting that if you switch to Sprint before you pay off your current device, you’ll still be responsible for the cost of that device. While Sprint is reimbursing switching fees of up to $650 per line, but the reimbursement is only available to customers who turn in their current phone.

Sprint says that customers who bring their own compatible smartphone will be able to get the 50% off pricing, and Brodkin notes that will make the proposition relatively risk-free for customers who aren’t under contract with their current carrier, and can switch to Sprint with their current phone.

Brodkin notes that the promotion is similar to an offer Sprint announced last year, though that promotion required customers to get a new phone in order to get the special pricing, which cut the average savings down to about 20%. Claure says that the new promotion is simpler and that he thinks that many customers will choose to get more data instead of taking the full 50% discount.

If you switch to Sprint and aren’t satisfied with your service, you’ll have 28 days to change your mind and return your Sprint phone without paying a restocking fee. The $36-per-line activation fee can only be refunded if you return the device within three days of activation, and if you leave early, you’d be responsible for service charges for the time you used the Sprint network.

As you consider the promotion, you should keep in mind that the main thing that keeps consumers from using Sprint’s network is its poor network quality — something that even a cheap monthly bill can’t make up for. Sprint doesn’t have the cash to participate in a major spectrum auction, but it says it’s boosting its network speed and quality with “cell site optimization, and our targeted deployment of LTE Advanced features like carrier aggregation and beamforming.”

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