Sprint returns fire, ups its unlimited plan

When it comes to wireless, the one-upmanship never seems to stop. Today's player: Sprint.

On Thursday, the nation's No. 4 carrier announced a fresh deal to draw in new customers, upping its previous offer of five lines with unlimited data, for $90. The new offer will now include high-definition video streaming and 10GB of mobile hotspot data.

The aggressive push for cell-phone customers went into overdrive Sunday when Verizon, the last big carrier with no unlimited data plan, unveiled an $80 per month unlimited plan ($180 for four lines) during the Grammy's.

Since then, T-Mobile has improved its $70/month unlimited plan ($160 for four lines) with HD video and up to 10GB of "hotspot" data. Analysts say something akin to a price war is in the works — great news for cell phone users, less so for investors.

Sprint's deal, which is available starting Friday, also includes a free iPhone 7 for the next 18 months with a trade-in of certain older phones. After one year, customers will be able to trade in the phone for a new model, or they can wait the full term and then either return the device or pay off the remainder owed on the phone.

Sprint will automatically upgrade customers who recently signed up for last week's $90 offer to this latest deal, giving them HD video and mobile hotspot though they won't be getting the free iPhone 7.

The $90 pricing requires you sign up for Sprint's automatic payment system (or AutoPay) and is only temporary, going from now until March 31, 2018. After that date, the price will jump to $60 for one line, $100 for two lines, $160 for four lines and $190 for five lines, though given the competition, it’s likely there will be newer plans when that date comes.

Sprint acknowledges as much. "We don't know in one year how the market is going to be positioned," says Roger Solé, Sprint's chief marketing officer.

You must be a new Sprint customer to qualify. The company recommends existing subscribers visit their local store to find the best options for them.

The upgraded plan brings Sprint in line with rival offers from Verizon and T-Mobile.

Verizon's deal also includes HD video streaming and 10GB of mobile hotspot data for tethering.

Prior to this week, Sprint and T-Mobile’s basic unlimited plans offered unlimited data, but did not include 10GB of hotspot data. Moreover, customers on their respective cellular networks could only stream video in lower quality standard definition, rather than HD, at least without paying higher monthly fees.

Is this a reaction to Verizon?

"The adjustment to HD is definitely something that we did to make sure that no one has a doubt that we are the best value proposition," says Solé. He concedes that some of today's changes were in response to Verizon, though he also believes that Verizon's new plan was equally in response to Sprint's recent round of aggressive offers.

"We don't want someone to say 'ah ok, Sprint is the best value proposition but it's not HD,'" continues Solé. "So let's remove that obstacles from the conversation."

Follow Eli Blumenthal on Twitter @eliblumenthal

USA TODAY


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