T-Mobile Tests $50 Calling Plan

cellHas a new wireless price war already begun? According to a blog that tracks T-Mobile, the carrier plans to introduce an unlimited $50 calling plan that would deeply undercut similar $100 plans from its major wireless competitors.

TmoNews, which describes itself as the "unofficial T-Mobile blog" and is unaffiliated with the company, reports that T-Mobile USA will offer new and current customers unlimited "anytime" minutes for $49.99 monthly on March 1, with a test launch kicking off today for customers in the San Francisco area.

A T-Mobile spokesperson Wednesday declined to comment on the report.

T-Mobile and the other three biggest U.S. carriers--Verizon Wireless, AT&T and Sprint Nextel--early last year all launched $100 plans in rapid succession. T-Mobile's included unlimited texting, instant messaging and picture messaging. Sprint throws in text messaging and Web access, while Verizon and AT&T charge separately for those extras.



Talk of new round of wireless price cuts began last month when Sprint's Boost Mobile brand unveiled a $50 unlimited voice and data plan. But Boost is a pre-paid service with only about 4 million customers. With nearly 33 million customers and a $50 plan for postpaid, or contract, customers, T-Mobile's move would have an even bigger impact on the other carriers' pricing.

The major wireless operators have been pushing fixed-price, unlimited plans to help boost revenue from data services such as text messaging, Web surfing and mobile video. Fueled by the cheaper plans and the spread of smartphones and 3G-capable phones, mobile data revenue has become a growing proportion of carriers' overall revenue in the last year.

This year promises to be especially challenging for wireless companies, however, as the recession squeezes consumer spending and mobile phone upgrades are put on hold. For T-Mobile, the purported $50 plan appeared to be aimed initially at retaining certain existing customers, according to William Ho, research director for wireless services at technology research firm Current Analysis.

"The fact that it's only in one market (San Francisco) suggests that it's a test bed for further market expansion," he said.

He noted that T-Mobile's postpaid churn rate of 2.4% in the fourth quarter was much higher than those of Verizon and AT&T. "The bottom line on this is that they need to stop the outward migration, " said Ho. Because T-Mobile competes with Boost for value-oriented customers, he added that the Sprint subsidiary's unveiling of a $50 plan last month had "touched a nerve" with T-Mobile.

The TmoNews post on T-Mobile's expected roll out of $50 plan also indicated the carrier would offer an unlimited plan covering voice, data and messaging for $85. Subscribers could opt instead to add unlimited text messaging, video and instant message for $20 a month or unlimited data for $25 a month.

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