If you’re an American BlackBerry user, chances are you pay for, or don’t pay for, your BlackBerry in one of two ways. The first group comprises enterprise users who get devices from their companies. The second covers BIS users, the large majority of which sign two-year contracts when purchasing their devices. This allows customers to take advantage of subsidies which can reduce the price of a BlackBerry from $500 down to around $200 — or even less for older models. There exists one other group, though it represents a small fraction of American BlackBerry users: prepaid. This might make you wonder if a prepaid BlackBerry is right for you.
Available prepaid BlackBerry plans
In America, there are only a select few carriers who even offer a BlackBerry on a prepaid plan. It is possible to use a BlackBerry on most carriers without signing a contract — though that usually comes after letting a contract lapse. Only a few offer a no credit check, no contract plan.
In early 2009 MetroPCS became the first Top-10 U.S. carrier to offer a BlackBerry on prepaid. For those unfamiliar, MetroPCS is a regional carrier that covers a number of large markets. Their plans offer unlimited services on a tiered basis. So, for example, the $40 plan offers more unlimited services than the $30 plan.
The BlackBerry plan costs the most, $60 per month. This includes BIS, while BES access costs $5 more. The handset itself lists for $349, so about $150 more than a new BlackBerry on contract. The only one they carry, though, is the Curve 8330, an outdated model. Finally, it is only available in MetroPCS’s legacy markets, meaning that all the areas they gained in recent AWS auctions, including New York and Boston, are out of bounds.
Shop for a Prepaid BlackBerry from Metro PCS here
In early 2009 Boost Mobile announced an unlimited talk, text, and web plan for $50 per month. Like most Boost services, this ran on the Nextel iDEN network. The plan gained popularity during the year, which prompted Boost’s parent company, Sprint, to extend it to the CDMA side. With this announcement came the introduction of three new handsets, one of which is the Curve 8330.
Boost’s BlackBerry plan resembles MetroPCS’s, in that it costs $60 a month for BIS access. The Curve 8330, however, costs $100 less with Boost. That’s one advantage, I suppose, of having a major carrier as a backer. With Sprint introducing the Curve 8530, they could afford to use their extra stock for Boost.
For those interested in an alternative, you can check out BoostBerry.com. The service offers BlackBerry handsets for purchase, which you can use on Boost’s $50 unlimited plan, saving you $10 per month.
Late last year T-Mobile introduced a number of new plans, including a few of the no-contract variety. These are still technically on postpaid, but because T-Mobile has its FlexPay plans, which allow customers to choose from among its postpaid plans, customers can get a plan on a prepaid basis. These run from $59.99 — 500 minutes plus unlimited text and web — to $79.99 — unlimited everything.
The phones, of course, will cost the suggested retail price. This means $280 for the BlackBerry Curve 8520 and $450 for the Bold 9700. I’m not sure if T-Mobile allows FlexPay customers to finance their handsets, but I doubt it.
Shop for a Prepaid BlackBerry from T-Mobile here
In many ways, Cricket is comparable to MetroPCS. They are a regional carrier that offers flat-rate, unlimited calling, messaging, and data plans. While Cricket does not currently have a BlackBerry in the lineup, they have announced that they will carry the Blackberry Curve 8530 starting this summer.
Shop for a Prepaid BlackBerry from Cricket here
Is a prepaid BlackBerry right for you?
Now that we know which carriers offer prepaid BlackBerry plans, we ask the next logical question. Are you better off with a prepaid BlackBerry? Perhaps.
If you have poor credit
This is basically the reason prepaid was invented. In order to sign up for a postpaid cellular plan you must pass a credit check. For those who can’t, there aren’t many options beyond prepaid. While the device will cost considerably more up-front, the monthly plans, especially those from Boost and MetroPCS, are pretty reasonable.
If you already own a BlackBerry
If you want to take your current BlackBerry to anther carrier, prepaid might be the way to go. MetroPCS offers a service that will flash handsets to its network, so you could theoretically bring another CDMA BlackBerry — from Sprint or Verizon, mainly — to them. You can also bring an unlocked GSM BlackBerry to T-Mobile.
If you can’t stand commitment
We make a deal with the devil when we sign cell phone contracts. The carrier gives us a sizable discount on a phone, and we pledge two years’ service to them. Some people do not want to make such a trade, though the big carriers leave them little choice. The current prepaid deals might not be ideal, but for some they trump any kind of contract plan.
From the information presented above, I don’t think there’s much of a case to be made for prepaid BlackBerrys in America right now. There are certain people who will find the plans more appealing than their contractual counterparts, but I don’t think it will cover many people. Maybe that will change in a few years, but considering the high cost of the devices I’m not holding out much hope.