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Taking a Closer Look At 2.5G Offerings

It’s a slow wireless news day (make that month). So we thought with SprintPCS’s 2.5G data launch it made sense to see how their pricing stacked up against the competition. We used each carrier’s web site to compare what they had on offer. By far, Sprint’s PCS Vision site is the best organized and even then it’s daunting for the average user. T-Mobile/Voicestream and Verizon do an OK job of explaining their services but they lack the cohesion of Sprint’s dedicated PCS Vision site. Cingular’s web site is horribly confusing. Good luck trying to decipher their data offerings. Nextel is going after business users and it shows, but the site is weak on details.

We compared 4 types of service offerings from the top 6 US carriers. While we’re not sure that any of these offering will generate significant data adoption, SprintPCS’s marketing machine will generate some interest and get early adopters to see what data services are currently available.

  • Typical Voice and Data Plans – First we looked at plans that offered voice minutes with some basic data features for use on the handset screen. The prices for these plans ranged from $43 to $75, with Sprint right in the middle at $60 for 500 anytime minutes, 4500 night and weekend minutes and 2MB of data. While they aren’t the cheapest, Sprint’s collection of color data services, cool new handsets and generous minutes makes their offering a good value. Let’s see what happens once actual service reviews come in.
  • Heavy Voice and Data Plans – For road warriors we looked at plans with a minimum of 1000 voice minutes and enough data that you could hook up a phone to your laptop or PDA to check email and do some surfing. Sprint blew away the competition at $120 for 1000 anytime minutes, 7000 nights and weekends and 20MB of data. Cingular has a similar offering at the same price but with only 13MB of data and very limited 2.5G coverage. T-Mobile/Voicestream was the next closest in terms of service and widespread coverage with a plan for $160 for 1400 minutes and 20MB of data.
  • Data Only Plans – Enterprise users and data hogs might be interested in data only plans for use with laptops and PDAs. 20MB of data seemed like a good starter bucket for regular email and surfing on a PDA or occasional use on a laptop. Sprint was the cheapest here at $40 with $2 for each additional MB. The per MB price is cut in half if you opt for 120 MB at $120. The other carriers offered 20MB at $55-60. Only T-Mobile/Voicestream meets SprintPCS with something approximating national coverage. Cingular does not offer data only 2.5G service at all.
  • Unlimited Data Only Plans – Finally we looked at unlimited 2.5G service. Its hard to make direct comparisons here because everyone is offering something slightly different. SprintPCS is offering business customers only unlimited data for $99 per month. Verizon is offering anyone unlimited at the same price. Nextel offers an unlimited 2.5G-like service for $55 per month. But they use compression to hit 30Kbps with their existing 9.6Kpbs packet service, so it’s not really a 2.5G service. And then T-Mobile/Voicestream is going to launch unlimited email and web browsing on their up coming Sidekick device at $40 per month sometime in the next couple of months. But access is limited to that specific device. If you want to use your existing PDA or laptop, they top out at 20MB.

    SprintPCS Vision will draw customers who want the latest phones with color screens, but I don’t think people are going to be blown away by the data offering itself. The Sidekick’s(aka Danger Hiptop) low device and service cost will probably stir up the most consumer interest when it comes out. The $50+ pricing for data only services will entice some enterprise users. But at those prices and limited coverage area, they will be selective about who gets access and for what purpose. Just look at RIM’s limited success even though everyone agrees the email is the killer app. It’s still too expensive for widespread enterprise adoption. And we haven’t even talked about performance yet. We’ll save that for another slow day.

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