Jan. 18, 2011 at 3:19 PM ET
Updated 6:10pm ET - On Jan. 30, Sprint will apply its $10 "premium data add-on," previously levied on 4G phone plans, to all new smart phone accounts. We've confirmed this with the company, and gotten answers to the biggest questions. Here's what it means for you.
You won't have to pay a new $10 monthly smart phone fee if:
• You already have a 4G Sprint phone — currently, Evo 4G, Evo Shift 4G and Epic 4G — because you already pay the $10 premium.
• You buy a non-4G smart phone (Android, BlackBerry, Palm, Windows and Samsung Instinct) from Sprint anytime from now through Jan. 29. If you have an eye on a Palm Pre, now's the time to grab it.
• You buy any phone, even one with a QWERTY keyboard, that is not considered "smart" — that is, it doesn't have a "robust" operating system including Android, BlackBerry, Palm, Windows and the Instinct.
• You buy a 3G or 4G modem or mobile hotspot like the Overdrive. This only affects smart phone plans.
• You make a change to your existing smart phone plan — so don't be afraid to adjust your monthly minutes or text message allotment.
• You do nothing. This fee is for new hardware. If you don't have a new phone, you don't need to fear a sudden $10 hike in your monthly bill.
You will have to pay the $10 fee if:
• You activate any Sprint smart phone (Android, BlackBerry, Palm, Windows and Instinct) as a new customer on or after Jan. 30.
• You upgrade your current Sprint phone to a new smart phone on or after Jan. 30.
And remember, it's $10 per new phone, not per plan, so if you have a family plan with multiple phones, you gotta multiply that fee.
As for whether we agree with the fee, that's another matter altogether. A few months ago, I railed against the 4G "tax" that upgrading customers had to pay. Now that tax has become a rate hike for all smart phone customers. It's good that Sprint is normalizing their rates across all smart phone customers, since the 4G experience is nice but not nice enough for such a big surcharge over 3G. It's just a shame to see Sprint's generally competitive monthly rates go up.
As Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile gear up their 4G phone offerings, Sprint will have a hard time differentiating on anything but price. It's definitely not a good thing for the carrier — clearly they did it because they need the money.
UPDATE: After a Facebook chat with a friend, I decided to do the back-of-envelope calculations of comparable plans. Here's how Sprint measures up with the current rates from AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile. Verizon may switch up plans for the iPhone's arrival, but either way, you can see that in real-world pricing situations, it's a pretty close race. Sprint's clear price advantage is gone, despite what some people are saying about the carrier still having a supposed 30 percent advantage, after this $10 bump:
Sprint: 450 voice minutes + unlimited data + unlimited text = $70 + $10 = $80 (Note: This includes Sprint's "Any Mobile, Anytime" plan, which lets you call any cell phone in the U.S. without using up minutes)
AT&T: 450 voice minutes + 2GB data + unlimited text = $40 + $25 + $15 = $80 (Correction: AT&T's unlimited text is $20, bringing the total to $85)
Verizon Wireless: 450 voice minutes + unlimited data + 5000 texts = $40 + $30 + $20 = $90
T-Mobile: 500 voice minutes + unlimited data + unlimited text = $80 (Update: T-Mobile has a limited-time-only plan that offers 1500 voice minuts plus unlimited data and texts for $80)
Thanks to @ybs62, @PHANIEL, @JiggyZ33 and the rest of you lovely tweeters for the great feedback!
Catch up with Wilson on Twitter at @wjrothman — he may be the only person alive who actually wants to hear about your cell-phone plan — or skip the one-on-one and join the conversation at our Technolog Facebook page.