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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Thu, 21 Jul 2011

Virgin Mobile -- pricing schizophrenia for prepaid carrier

I've been long intrigued by the prepaid cellular market. The traditional "contract" mobile carries that dominate in the U.S. generally fleece their customers and do so by offering "good" phones cheaply while making it all back with higher monthly costs for the duration of the contract.

I haven't yet written anything, but Virgin Mobile sent me a couple of devices over the past few months -- an LG Optimus V smartphone that runs Android and a MiFi mobile broadband device.

While I thought the LG phone a bit overpriced at , knowing full well that phones often available for down to free on a contract plan can cost much more from a prepaid carrier, my enthusiasm for the LG Optimus V was dampened when I learned that the phone had been introduced months earlier on Virgin Mobile at .

Upon Virgin's announcement that they would bring out a "real" Android phone, a Motorola with a bigger screen that compares more favorably with the better Android handsets for (ouch!), the drop of the LG Optimus V's price from back down to made me think all was not wrong with Virgin Mobile.

And they did have that killer Beyond Talk plan. No contract. per month for 300 minutes of talk, "unlimited" texting and web (really 2.5 GB before throttling, or so I understood, but not 200 MB like other carriers, so it was still a great deal).

Call me anachronistically cheap, but per month, even with a phone, sounded pretty good to me. Almost great, in fact.

But now I learn that on the day (July 20) Virgin Mobile releases its "grown-up" Motorola Android phone for , the Beyond Talk plan is suddenly a plan.

Wait. From to ? That's a 40 percent price increase.

Can I repeat that? A 40 percent price increase in the service overnight.

While nobody matches per month, there are plans out there for with unlimited everything, including talk minutes.

I don't claim to be a mobile-market expert. I'm just a guy who can't see spending to (or more) per month for mobile phone service.

I'd just as soon have no talk minutes and all texting and web. For . But nobody's offering that to me, either.

Virgin Mobile is "grandfathering" in current users, if they continue paying their bills monthly, and allowing them to keep the -per-month Beyond Talk plan. New people? It's 40 percent more.

Forty percent more. Overnight.

Virgin Mobile isn't offering 4g service. It's 3g. You can't use your to phone on "regular" Sprint (the network Virgin uses for its service).

Now the service from MetroPCS and the service from T-Mobile is starting to look a whole lot more competitive.

If my employer was paying the bill, I'd be fine with a "regular" plan. But that's not happening. This will come out of my own pocket. And I'm surprised how cavalier the average person is out there about paying or so per month just to carry an Android phone around in their pocket.

Disclaimer: I realize I'm in "get off my lawn" territory.