Cricket launching no-contract $149 Android phone

The Ascend handset from Huawei runs Android 2.1

Cricket, a U.S. mobile operator that uses pay-in-advance monthly plans, will sell the Android-based Ascend smartphone for $US149 without a contract when it hits stores in the next two weeks.

The Ascend, made by Huawei Technologies, has a 3.5-inch touchscreen and runs the Android 2.1 operating system. It will be the third smartphone and the second Android device from Cricket, which sells voice and data services on a no-contract basis and has about 5.3 million subscribers across the U.S.

Cricket will offer the Ascend with a $55-per-month plan that includes unlimited talk and text-messaging and no cap on data use. The phone will be able to use EV-DO Revision A (Evolution-Data Optimized) data access across Cricket's own network, which reaches about 94 million U.S. residents, and have voice and text service through roaming partners in other areas of the country, said Matt Stoiber, vice president and general manager of device development at Cricket. The EV-DO network has a maximum speed of about 1.4M bps (bits per second).

As smartphones based on Google's Android OS have proliferated over the past several months, the cost of the handsets has come down. Several carriers in Europe have recently introduced Android phones, including some from Huawei, priced below $150 without a contract. Cricket so far has offered the Android 1.6-based Sanyo Zio smartphone for $249 and the BlackBerry Curve for $299.

The Ascend has a 528MHz CPU and will come with a 2GB removable storage card, Stoiber said. Cricket will be showing it off privately during the CTIA Enterprise & Applications conference this week in San Francisco.

Huawei is also supplying two other devices coming soon from Cricket. The M750, a feature phone with a touchscreen, will run on Cricket's CDMA2000-1x (Code Division Multiple Access) network, which runs below 200K bps. It will use a proprietary operating system but will include e-mail and Web browsing. The M750 will go on sale next month for an undisclosed price below $150, Stoiber said.

Within the next two weeks, Cricket will also start selling the Crosswave, a portable Wi-Fi hotspot that uses the EV-DO network to link to the Internet. Users can connect as many as three Wi-Fi devices at a time to the Crosswave, Stoiber said. It will sell for $149. Cricket will offer its standard data plans for the Cricket, ranging from 2.5GB per month for $40 to 7.5GB per month for $60.

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