Virgin Mobile opens its first 10 retail outlets tomorrow to showcase prepaid iPhone

We reported three weeks ago that Virgin Mobile will become yet another U.S. carrier to sell unlocked iPhones with month-to-month prepaid plans. It seems Virgin means business as a new report by Bloomberg Businesweek has it that the carrier will open its first ten retail stores in Chicago tomorrow, on the eve of its prepaid iPhone launch. These stores could lead to a national rollout and are said to be “aiming to profit from the iPhone’s expansion into the prepaid wireless market”

Prepaid iPhones are available from Virgin Mobile’s online store today. Retail outlets will open for business tomorrow. Virgin’s prepaid iPhone offerings include the 16GB iPhone 4S for $649 and the 8GB iPhone 4 for $549. Monthly plans will run you between $30 and $50 and you can get a $5 discount by signing up for automatic monthly payments.

Virgin Mobile is a Sprint property so these unlocked iPhones are of CDMA variety. An unconfirmed report claimed that Boost Mobile, another Sprint property, will be getting prepaid iPhones in early September.

Cricket became the first carrier in the United States to offer the iPhone on a prepaid basis beginning June 22. Sprint CEO Dan Hesse thinks there’s a growing market for prepaid devices outside the “economically challenged” category:

We think there’s good demand for high-end devices like the iPhone in the prepaid market. There’s a misperception that the prepaid market is only for people that are economically challenged. That’s not the case. Our expectation, based on preorders, is that the iPhone will do very well on Virgin.

He’s most likely right as many will find out that the initially higher sum spent upfront on non-subsidized or partially subsidized iPhone can really pay off over time (depending on your plan, of course) compared to committing your soul to a carrier over a two-year period.

According to research firm Strategy Analytics, Apple shipped about four million prepaid iPhones in the first quarter, accounting for 11 percent of total unit sales. In the U.S., about 28 percent of wireless consumers use prepaid plans, Strategy Analytics said.

What are you up to once your contract expires? Will you again sign on the dotted line to get the next iPhone for just $199? Maybe you’re willing to pay around $500 upfront for the device for the privilege of month-t0-month plans that you can stop using at a moment’s notice, without paying a penalty?