Virgin Mobile escalates iPhone price war

Almost from the start, U.S. wireless carriers and retailers have offered cash cards, discounts and other incentives to get people to buy the new iPhone 5c and 5s. Now Virgin Mobile is stepping it up a notch with the cheapest deal I've seen on an unsubsidized phone.

Virgin Mobile has cut the price of the iPhone 5c to starting at $359.99, while the iPhone 5s starts at $459.99 (both for 16 GB models). That's the lowest unsubsidized price I can recall seeing on Apple's latest phones. As a point of comparison, an unlocked 16 GB iPhone 5c purchased directly from Apple will cost you $549 while an unlocked 16 GB iPhone 5s costs $649.

Virgin Mobile is a prepaid wireless carrier that is owned by Sprint, and the devices they sell are accordingly locked to Sprint's CDMA network. The company offers what it calls "Beyond Talk" plans with unlimited messaging and 2.5 GB of 4G data starting at $35 per month.

You can find Virgin Mobile's products on store shelves at big box retailers like Best Buy, but the deals on iPhones appear to be web exclusives.

Is the low price of a Virgin Mobile iPhone and its monthly rate enough to make you switch? Or is Sprint's network still too spotty in your area? Let me know what you think in the comments.