Small Carriers Compared: Slash Your Smartphone Bill
Originally, Cricket Wireless aimed to be a regional alternative to contract carriers, but it has since expanded to target a wider swath of budget-conscious folks across the U.S. Right now, the carrier boasts about 6.2 million users, both on its own regional networks and through a roaming deal with Sprint. Expect that number to keep growing—especially with contract-free iPhones now on board.
Cricket offers a music-focused plan called Muve Music, which features unlimited song downloads via an app preinstalled on your phone. Music is stored on a specially encrypted SD card that can fit about 3,000 songs.
Cricket’s service is available nationwide, but its deployment is split into two channels: a native CDMA/EVDO network in 35 states around the U.S. (where Cricket has built and operates its own networks) and roaming with Sprint in other major cities, including Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York and San Francisco. Whether you’re on roaming or on the native network, however, Cricket promises that data speeds won’t be compromised.
While both MetroPCS and U.S. Cellular have 4G networks, Cricket users unfortunately have to make do with the carrier’s 3G speeds—unless they live in Tucson, Ariz., the only city where the carrier currently provides 4G LTE service. However, Cricket has signed an agreement with Clearwire to provide 4G roaming for two-thirds of its current network footprint within two to three years.
Plans and Value
As of press time, two types of rates existed on the network: Cricket Core plans and Cricket National Retail plans. In each of the 35 states where Cricket service is available “natively,” users can sign up for the core plans. Everywhere else, Cricket national retail plans are offered through retailers, including Best Buy and Walmart.
As part of its core plans, Cricket offers a $55-per-month smartphone plan. This nets you unlimited talk and text, but only 1GB of 3G mobile data. Music junkies, on the other hand, might be interested in the carrier’s Muve Music plan. The top-tier Android Muve Music Plan for $65 per month gets you unlimited talk, text and Web for smartphones, though it’s worth noting that if you exceed 1GB of data, Cricket may throttle you.
Where Cricket isn’t available natively, subscribers can sign up for its $55 monthly Android Muve plan, which includes email, data backup and app store access. This plan caps you at 1,000 U.S. minutes for calling, but you get unlimited texts and the same 1GB of data as you do with the core plan.
With the iPhone 4 or 4S, Cricket guarantees 2.3GB of full-speed data per month. After exceeding that, your speeds may be slowed.
In late June, both the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S became available on Cricket, marking the first time the Apple device has been offered on a no-contract carrier. Users can pony up $500 for the 16GB iPhone 4S or $400 for the 2-year-old iPhone 4—but you can’t use it on any other network.
In addition, you’ll have to deal with some limitations, geographically speaking: Cricket released the iPhone in about 60 U.S. cities, but these don’t include such major metropolitan areas as Chicago, Los Angeles, New York or San Francisco.
For these lucky folks, Cricket’s estimate is $1,719 over the course of two years for its customers on its $55-per-month, contract-free plan. It’s worth noting, however, that users may experience throttled speeds with data usage beyond 2.3GB.
As for the rest of its handset selection, Cricket offers the Samsung Vitality and the ZTE Score through its online store for national retail availability. But if you reside in a state where Cricket operates its own networks, you can choose from those plus four more handsets: the BlackBerry Curve 9350, Huawei Mercury, Huawei Ascend II and Samsung Transfix.
Cricket used to be just a decent option for those interested in making the switch to a no-contract carrier, but now the carrier has a weapon to wield with killer appeal: the iPhone. Even though Cricket iPhone users have to pay more up front compared with getting the device on a major carrier, the overall package may be worth it for Apple enthusiasts. After all, it’s a great chance for you to get the iPhone off-contract, with an affordable monthly bill.