While they timidly test the waters in prepaid service, the nation's biggest carriers continue to offer their 3G devices in a complex and confusing tangle of data caps, device costs, and plan rules. Purveyors of the new, so-called 4G networks (Clearwire, Sprint, and MetroPCS) are adding prepaid, all-you-can-use data plans that tout the new networks' faster download speeds.
On August 30, Clearwire launched its Rover prepaid brand, which requires users to purchase either a $150 mobile router (called the Rover Puck) or a $100 USB modem to connect to the company's WiMax network. The Wi-Fi connection in the Rover Puck will then support up to five additional devices. Rover plans cost $5 per day, $20 per week, or $50 per month, with no data caps and with download speeds that eclipse those of 3G networks.
Though Clearwire has offered month-to-month contracts for its service, Seth Cummings, general manager of the Rover brand, notes, those plans still require a credit card, which many of the data-hungry youths in Rover's target market don't have.
"We wanted to take away all the complexity of signing up for a mobile data plan, while coming out of the gate with a premium feel for a pay-as-you-go market," Cummings says. The Rover products will work wherever Clearwire has service; as of September 20, Clearwire's WiMax service was available in 54 markets.
Paul Kapustka is editor and founder of Sidecut Reports, an independent research firm that specializes in wireless technologies.