T-Mobile USA, the struggling wireless carrier, has a ray of hope: It's finally getting the iPhone, it's selling the device at an aggressive price, and customers won't have to sign a contract.
The company said Tuesday that the Apple iPhone 5 would be available starting April 12 for $100 upfront, with customers paying an additional $20 a month for 24 months for the handset.
Other new smartphones, like the Samsung Galaxy S IV and the BlackBerry Z10, will be available with similar payment plans.
Although there would be no contract binding customers to T-Mobile, the No. 4 American mobile carrier by market share, customers would have to pay off the balance they owe on their phone to end service before the two years are up.
Also Tuesday, T-Mobile formally replaced its old phone contracts with new plans that do not require signing a contract. For $50 a month, customers can get unlimited minutes, text messages and 500 megabytes of data; they can pay an extra $20 for unlimited data.
Over two years, the effective price for a smartphone and phone service would be hundreds of dollars less than it would on AT&T or Verizon Wireless. At $580, it would also be cheaper than buying a $649 unlocked phone directly from Apple.
At AT&T and Verizon, the most popular phone plans cost upward of $100 a month with a two-year contract for limited data. The iPhone 5 costs at least $199 on their networks with a two-year contract.
The simplified phone plans are part of T-Mobile's new campaign to be the "un-carrier." By moving to contract-free plans, it says it is doing away with charging customers fees for surpassing their data limits or terminating their service early.
John Legere, T-Mobile USA's new chief executive, said that over two years an iPhone on T-Mobile will cost $1,000 less than it would on AT&T. He said moving toward contract-free plans would make the price that people pay more transparent and save them money over time.
"Do you have any idea what you're paying?" Legere said at a news media event in New York.
"I'm going to explain how stupid we all are because once it becomes flat and transparent, there's nowhere to hide. You pay so much for your phones, it's incredible."