Apple, Cricket & Virgin. Hints of the future?

Before I could finish a long overdue post on Apple’s evolving relationship with mobile carriers, events overtook me. Since I started writing that post, Virgin Mobile and Cricket Wireless will soon be selling iPhones for use with their pre-paid plans. The pre-paid plans offer significantly lower monthly rates than traditional iPhone plans from AT&T and Verizon, particularly, but the hardware is significantly more expensive than the subsidized prices offered by those carriers. I find these developments interesting for a few reasons.

First, I it fits the pattern I described in my earlier post in that Apple is experimenting with more expensive phones in combination with cheaper, more flexible service.

Second, it is coming sooner than I anticipated, in ways I didn’t anticipate. I thought it would start with TMobile, but it is instead starting with Sprint, which owns Virgin Mobile, and Cricket, which makes heavy use of Sprint’s network. While I thought this would start with TMobile, it makes sense that it is starting with Sprint, since Sprint, like TMobile, is a second tier carrier which needs to be open to new business models in order to stay in the game at all.

I’m interested to see what comes next. I expect we’ll hear more by the time the next iPhone is released, likely by fall. I wouldn’t be surprised too if iOS 6, which will be announced at Apple’s World Wide Developer’s Conference next week, contains new and improved features that help marginalize the mobile carriers.

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