Prepaid 4G is Here, But Limited


on June 10, 2011   |   3 comments

As carriers release more and more 4G smartphones and devices, it’s becoming harder to resist the call of 4G. But what if you want to try it out without the commitment? Prepaid 4G is available, though it’s not easy to find. MetroPCS, T-Mobile and AT&T each have some prepaid 4G devices available. Verizon and Sprint don’t yet offer prepaid 4G.

MetroPCS, a prepaid carrier that doesn’t even offer 3G service, has a fledgling 4G LTE network up and running, after deciding to vault straight from 2G to 4G. Over the last year or so, it has been steadily adding higher end smartphones and cell phones to its offerings, including two 4G phones. The first is the Samsung Craft ($200 after mail-in rebate), a feature phone that comes bundled with the 2009 Star Trek movie loaded on a MicroSD card. The second is a 4G smartphone: the Samsung Galaxy Indulge ($300 after mail-in rebate).

The prepaid 4G plans that MetroPCS offers are compelling. For $60 you get unlimited data each month; for $50 you get 1GB of data per month; and for $40, 100 MB per month. All three plans also include unlimited talk and text. The $50 and $60 plans add premium messaging services and the $60 plan also includes a video on demand service, called MetroStudio. The carrier does not yet offer any 4G USB modems or netbooks.

There are a few catches, though. The first is in coverage; MetroPCS is a regional carrier with an already small network, so its 4G network is even smaller. Currently you can get 4G in just a handful of metro areas including Atlanta, Boston, Dallas/ Fort Worth, Detroit and Las Vegas as well as some areas of Florida.

The second catch is that, though the 4G plan includes unlimited video streaming, you can’t access Netflix or Skype, which some experts see as violating a recent net neutrality ruling that prohibits carriers from blocking specific websites, among other things.

T-Mobile also offers some prepaid 4G devices, like the T-Mobile Rocket 4G USB modem ($60) and a 4G Mobile Hotspot ($130). The carrier also has a handful of prepaid tablets and netbooks such as the Dell Streak 7 ($400), T-Mobile G-Slate ($750) and the Dell Inspiron Mini 10 4G netbook ($450). For prepaid 4G on any of these devices you don’t have to pay by the month; you can buy refill cards ($10 for 100 MB, $30 for 1GB and $50 for 3GB) depending on your usage needs. The only prepaid 4G smartphone available from T-Mobile currently is a refurbished Samsung Galaxy S 4G ($350).

AT&T has just one 4G mobile broadband device that can be purchased without a contract, the AT&T USBConnect Shockwave 4G ($250); with a 2-year contract, it’s free. The only prepaid plan available is $60 per month for 5 GB of data. T-Mobile’s and AT&T’s 4G networks are still rather small, compared to Sprint and Verizon, though their pending merger could speed up expansion efforts.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael June 13, 2011 at 5:20 pm

Whereas Sprint and Verizon’s 4G devices are real 4G in that they use 4G infrastructure and are capable of using future upgraded networks with WiMax 2 and LTE Advanced.  On the other hand if you are using ATT and TMo’s spurious 4G you will not be able to use your phones when they upgrade to LTE 4G.  This means you will need to buy new phones.

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