By 2015, prepaid subscribers will account for nearly 75% of the worldwide mobile subscriber base.
Prepaid Devices: Bringing Sexy Back
Customers who subscribe to prepaid wireless service have traditionally had a limited device catalog to choose from; the devices that were available were usually a generation or two old, and
had limited features. This has changed and now access to the latest smartphones is no longer a perk that only postpaid customers enjoy. Prepaid customers can now have access to some of the
newest, sexiest smartphones, including top-end Android models and even the latest iPhone 4S, which is is available from Cricket Wireless and Virgin Mobile in the U.S. and numerous prepaid carries
globally. Customers have responded to the boost in device availability with their wallets. According to research from the NPD Group, sales of smartphones to prepaid customers tripled over the past
year. "Prepaid is one of the fastest growing smartphones segments in the U.S.," wrote Ross Rubin, a principal analyst with the NPD Group.
Some prepaid operators are going even further to expand the device catalog to infinity. These SIM-based operators, like StraightTalk and Simple Mobile, allow customers to bring their own
device to the network. While this is very popular in the rest of the world, in the United States it's just catching on. It makes good sense for frequent travelers as well, who can exploit flat
international data roaming rates by swapping in a SIM card from MVNOs like Maxroam or Cellhire.
From a services standpoint, prepaid and postpaid are becoming more alike. 73 percent of global operators surveyed in an Amdocs research report indicated they were moving to offer prepaid
customers the type of services traditionally only available to postpaid customers. Service features like personalized content, applications, automatic data backup, content filtering (e.g.
parental controls), multi-device bundles and discounts, rich mobile broadband, and value-added partner content are all part of the prepaid world now. In fact, some prepaid service providers offer
content service that trump offerings from the postpaid world. Muve music, an unlimited streaming music service from Cricket Wireless that was designed from the ground up with mobile in mind, is one
the fastest growing and most popular subscription music services in the country.