Cricket to sell pre-paid, no-contract iPhone starting June 22

$55 a month gets users unlimited voice, text and data; Cricket charges $500 for 16 GB iPhone 4S, $400 for iPhone 4

Cricket Communications will offer the first pre-paid iPhone in the U.S. starting June 22, the company announced Thursday.

Cricket will sell the iPhone 4S and iPhone 4 with its current $55 a month service plan that provides unlimited talk, text and data without the need to sign a contract.

The major carriers require two-year contracts for the iPhone in the U.S., most starting at $60-$80 a month for voice, data and texting. Some carriers place limits on data use.

The iPhone 4S handset at Cricket stores and select dealers will cost $499.99 for the 16 GB model, and $399.99 for the iPhone 4.

Those hardware prices are much higher than carriers charge for the handsets on post-paid, or contract service, with the carriers subsidizing the cost of the cost of the device to lure customers.

An iPhone 4 with 8 GB on AT&T, Sprint and Verizon starts at $99 with a two-year deal. and at $199 for a 16GB iPhone 4S with a two-year contract.

Pre-paid deals have long been marketed by smaller carriers to customers on a limited budget, such as younger users.

Over the past two years, pre-paid deals have become more attractive to major carriers like AT&T and Verizon Wireless as they seek out new sources of revenue.

Cricket, a subsidiary of Leap Wireless International, has 6.2 million customers using 3G CDMA and 4G LTE services.

The iPhone currently functions only over 3G CDMA or 3G GSM networks.

Though Cricket describes its data service as unlimited, it does impose a "fair use policy" ceiling of 2.3 GB of data per month.

Users going above that amount may find their speeds for sending and receiving data slowed to as low as 56 Kbps for the duration of the month, according to Cricket's online policy.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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