Affordable iPhone?

This week Cricket will become the first pay-as-you-go provider to include an iPhone option. It will be followed by Virgin Mobile who goes live with their program on July 1st. Both will offer the 16GB iPhone 4S and the 8GB iPhone 4 without a contract and with cheaper data plans. One big difference is the cost of the phone. With contract plans, the up-front phone cost is much cheaper since the data plan will help make up the difference. On these pay-as-you-go plans, you can change phones at any time, but you will usually pay retail – or very close – for your phone.

Can you still save money with a pay-as-you go plan? PC World looked at the various carriers and compared their costs over a two-year period using the iPhone 4S with the minimum data plan for the five carriers (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, Virgin Mobile and Cricket). While Virgin Mobile has the highest cost for the iPhone itself ($649), the total cost of operation over the two-year period was more than $500 cheaper than either Verizon or Sprint. This was based on their $30/month plan offering 300 minutes and an unlimited data plan that’s throttled to a much slower speed after 2.5GB. Cricket’s phone cost was significantly cheaper but its overall costs were higher than AT&T (the cheapest contract carrier) and almost as high as Verizon and Sprint. Note that “unlimited data” includes throttling as some point with all carriers.

At my house, we’re at a telephone crossroads. We currently use Vonage with an aging cordless Motorola phone system. Both of us also have Virgin Mobile phones. Do we replace the phone system or just go with a mobile option. Others in our family have already done that quite successfully and, having been a happy Virgin Mobile customer for several years, I must admit the iPhone option is very tempting. It’s time to crunch the numbers and decide what kind of communications option works best for us.

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