For awhile, it looked like Verizon Wireless and AT&T Wireless had run away with the mobile market, each trying to out-do the other in building the most reliable and speedy 4G LTE network.
The game began to change when Sprint and T-Mobile sped their expansions of 4G LTE service across the country, while still undercutting Verizon and AT&T on price. T-Mobile and AT&T went at each other with both barrels, while Sprint revamped their mobile plans in a way that sets them apart from everyone else.
Verizon and AT&T followed suit, making changes to their plans while trying to please both the customers who still want highly subsidized phones in exchange for a two-year contract along with a new breed of commitment-shy consumers. Mobile phone users have fled in large numbers to prepaid carriers such as Sprint's Virgin Mobile and Boost Mobile, which charge more for their phones but cost much less per month than the contract players.
Last year, Boost and Virgin even began offering phones that use Sprint's quickly expanding 4G LTE network, while continuing to charge as little as $35 per month, which will give you 2.5 GB of full-speed data, 300 voice minutes and unlimited texts with Virgin Mobile. Paying on time for 18 months with Boost Mobile gets you 2.5 GB of full-speed data plus unlimited voice and text for $40 a month.
Through March, Boost Mobile offers a $30 bill credit and a discounted monthly rate of $35 for the first 6 months with a new phone activation. They sell some very nice Android smart phones in the $150 to $250 price range plus pre-owned Samsung Galaxy S III devices for $160.99.
AT&T's free with contract phones include the Blackberry Z10, Blackberry Q10, Samsung Galaxy S III, Nokia Lumia 920 and HTC First.
While still offering free and heavily discounted phones under contract, Verizon and AT&T have both introduced no-commitment options with full-price phones, paid up front or through installment plans. Both carriers' cheapest no-contract phones costs about $250, with most running between $300 to $600.
Knowing that few customers want to front several hundred dollars for a new phone, both companies steer people into installment payment plans. The payment options, known as Verizon Edge and AT&T Next, don't require a traditional contract. However, they amount to the same kind of deal, since you're on the hook for the remaining cost of the phone if you opt out before paying it off.
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