New offerings by smaller carriers mean Androids for all

by Lauren Mitchell

While big time carriers like Verizon (VZ), AT&T (T), Sprint (S), and (for the time being independent) T-Mobile hold most of the wireless network market, smaller carriers are getting a piece of the action with new offerings of brand-name Android devices.

Until recently, those in search of the hottest Android devices have had no choice but to bind themselves to long-term contracts to gain access to the latest and greatest. However, an increasing availability of name-brand Google (GOOG) Android devices provided by smaller carriers means customers don’t necessarily need to subscribe to a big time national carrier in order to access the latest Android smartphone or tablet.

The increased prevalence of Android devices is spurring smaller carriers to offer affordable and basic Android models like Cricket’s Sanyo Zio, or Virgin Mobile’s (VMED) Samsung Intercept and LG Optimus. However, it seems smaller carriers are banking on basic models to act as stepping-stones to more advanced Android devices in the future. US Cellular (USM) is slated to release its Motorola XOOM Android smart tablet in Q2 of this year and similar devices are sure to follow.

Consumers seeking less expensive options on Android

Internet2GO.net explains that while Apple (AAPL) lures kids into its platform with the iPod Touch, many people, especially younger users, will be picking up inexpensive Android devices like the Optimus on pre-paid carriers. This may create an Android "funnel" where people start on lower-end Android devices and migrate up to others after they become "acculturated" to the Android look and feel. Verizon may have finally acquired the iPhone, but Android devices will maintain momentum in part by making affordable smartphones available to the masses.

The race to provide the best and most affordable service will always be dynamic. Larger carriers offer an upper hand in new technology like a 4G network, while smaller carriers offer lower pricing and a 3G network leaving consumers asking themselves if they really mind the 1G difference if they’re paying less. And since smaller carriers are catching up in the Android offering arena, consumers are once again left weighing their options on providers and post-paid plans are likely to feel the pressure.