First of all, I would like to say that I am not a fan of CDMA carriers (Verizon, Sprint, and their MVNOs). The reason is that you are forced to buy their phones, which are branded and controlled by them. Plus you cannot use your phone anywhere else other than the operator your pick. Imagine buying a car where you can only fill up your gas at one gas station company. Imagine buying a computer where you can only use with one ISP for internet. With GSM, I can buy an unlocked GSM phone and use it with any GSM carrier I want to, worldwide.
Having said that, CDMA is pretty prominent in the US. The biggest carrier, Verizon, is using CDMA (and recently LTE). Let’s take a peek at their prepaid plans. Verizon only offers two plans, $60 and $70 a month. $60 gives you 500MB data, $70 gives you 2GB. Unlimited minutes and text. Compared to their own post paid plans, it’s not bad. However, your phone selection is severely limited as Verizon only offers three old smartphones on their website (2 Android phones, and 1 Blackberry, all 3G only). Plus, you are limited to 3G EVDO. No LTE access. And once you compare prices with the plethora of MVNOs we have seen so far, $60 a month is a lot of money, especially when you cannot use the phone that you want.
There is a Verizon MVNO called PagePlus.
They will activate Verizon phones (you still have to buy the phone somewhere, and since CDMA is provider locked, most of the time you have to buy them at full price from Verizon). *EDIT: I guess I was misinformed, another reason I hate CDMA. PagePlus is not activating Verizon phones, more like people are flashing their Verizon phones to be usable on PagePlus.* Prices are a bit more reasonable. $30 a month gives you 1200 minutes, 3000 text, and 250MB data. $40 a month gives you unlimited minutes and text, but dialed down the data to just 200MB. $55 a month bumps the data to 2GB. If you already have a Verizon phone, this is a good alternative to save some money. Do note that you will be using EVDO 3G, not LTE. EVDO 3G is slower than HSDPA (which is the 3G technology used by GSM carriers).
Next, let’s look at Sprint. Being the “little” guy against Verizon, Sprint is akin to T-Mobile, offering better values and more MVNOs. They only have one prepaid plans for smartphones, $70 a month for unlimited everything, including data, but no tethering. Also, Sprint only offers two Android phones. The plus side is they offer an LTE phone. The downsides are Sprint’s LTE coverage is extremely limited at this point, and their 3G EVDO speed is slower than even Verizon’s (which is already slow).
Sprint’s MVNOs are more interesting. First, there is Virgin Mobile. $35 a month for 300 minutes, $45 for 1200 minutes, and $55 for unlimited. Text is unlimited. Data is “unlimited,” up to 2.5GB at 3G/4G speed. Tethering/portable hotspot is $15 extra, and will give you an extra 1GB of high-speed data. 4G here means Wimax. It’s no LTE, and it’s not going to be expanded any further as Sprint decided to adopt LTE instead, so caveat emptor. On the bright side, Sprint’s Wimax coverage is a bit better than Sprint’s LTE right now. In addition, Virgin Mobile’s phone selections are more varied, including iPhone 4S and 4 (CDMA iPhone, thus slow 3G EVDO speed). A good option if you know what you want and get.
Another Sprint MVNO that is offering an ala-carte style plan is ting. This is a very interesting model. Unlike most plans, you have a plethora of options on how many minutes, text, and data you want to pay per month. Even more interesting is if you exceed the pre-determined limit, ting will simply bump your plan up to the higher one, and will bring it down on the next billing cycle. So no crazy overages. How is this interesting? Well, since ting will bump your plans up automatically, one can simply pick no minutes, no text, and no data, and just pay $6 access fee per phone. That way, if you are a light user, you will be paying the minimum amount possible. They even include tethering at no additional charge (the way it should be as tethering is a feature of your phone, not the network). Of course, if you look at the upper end prices, it can be very expensive (3000 minutes by itself already cost $52, while other operators are offering unlimited minutes, text, AND data for less than that). ting allows you to bring an existing Sprint device (except for iPhone). They also offer a more “up-to-date” lineup, including the Galaxy Nexus, Galaxy S3, and Galaxy Note 2. Catch is, it’s still CDMA, and it’s Sprint. So if your area has no LTE, you’ll be getting the slow EVDO 3G.
Again, I’m not a fan of CDMA in general as I have pointed out in the beginning. GSM opens a lot more choices in terms of phones. If you have to go CDMA route, ting and Virgin Mobile offer very good prices. If you must have Verizon coverage, and you want LTE, then paying up to the nose for Verizon’s post-paid plans is the only choice.
Next I would explore tips and tricks in picking your phone and operators.