Virgin Mobile offers no-contract iPhone plan for US customers

Virgin Mobile USA, which operates as a sort of sub-brand of Sprint in the United States, today announced plans to begin selling the iPhone on June 29 with pre-paid, no-contract voice and data service starting at $30 per month.

The no-strings-attached connectivity comes at a higher hardware price: iPhone 4S at 16GB is $649, and the iPhone 4 at 8GB is $549. Plans include "Unlimited" texting and data (well, unlimited up to 2.5GB).

Doing the math, the device plus two years of service (not that you're required to do two years) adds up to $1,269 plus tax.

As the AP notes, that's about $800 less than you'd pay for the same phone and the same connectivity for the same duration under a Sprint contract.

Here's the rub: The population most likely to find contract-free phones appealing? People on lower incomes, or with poor credit. That's the same population least likely to want to pay *more* for the hardware.

As Jacqui Cheng at Ars points out, Virgin Mobile USA is the second carrier in the nation to announce a no-contract iPhone offering:

Cricket was the first to announce its plans in May, offering the 8GB iPhone 4 for $400 and the 16GB iPhone 4S for $500. Those up-front prices are lower than Virgin Mobile's by a good $149 each, but Cricket's monthly plans are higher—the company offers a $55 monthly plan with unlimited calls, texts, and data, with the same caveat that data speeds will be throttled after 2.3GB.