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Virgin Mobile

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Virgin Mobile USA is introducing a no-contract wireless plan that gives customers more options to pick and choose the types of services they want.

The new Virgin Mobile Custom plan, to be sold through Walmart, allows customers to activate up to five phone lines for a monthly fee of $6.98 each. This basic plan offers 20 texts and 20 minutes of calling, and requires the purchase of one of three phones — the ZTE Emblem ($79.88), LG Pulse ($99.88) or the 4G LTE-enabled LG Unify ($129.88).

Consumers can tailor their service by adding unlimited voice calls to individual phone lines for $18 a month, or unlimited texting for a $10 monthly fee. Unlimited talk and text can be had for $34.98 per month.

Data is sold separately, with rates starting at $1.40 a month for 20 megabytes of data, and increasing to $18.50 a month for 1 gigabyte. Customers can also add on other features, such as music streaming or unlimited Facebook access. for $5 per month, without having that use count against the purchased data amount.

Virgin Mobile Custom is designed to appeal particularly to families looking to control their phone bills. The service offers robust parental controls, including the ability to determine who can call or text children. Parents can also disable mobile games or Facebook access during school hours, or impose a curfew that turns off the phone at bedtime.

The service is powered by ItsOn, an Andreessen Horowitz-backed startup whose service lets carriers offer customers more granular control over plan options. ItsOn recently announced plans to shutter the Zact service it had run on top of Sprint’s network, shifting customers instead to the new Virgin Mobile option.

Dow Draper, the president of Sprint’s Prepaid Group (which includes the Virgin Mobile brand), said the service is tailored for budget-minded customers who object to paying for mobile services they don’t use.

“There are a lot of prepaid customers who want to control their spending,” Draper said. “They don’t need to spend $50 or $60 for an unlimited plan. This is a unique way to target that customer, which is a large segment of prepaid customers.”

Virgin Mobile Custom launches on Aug. 9.

The prepaid wireless business, which the industry defines as voice and data plans sold without a yearly contract, have been gaining in popularity. Researcher Atlantic ACM reports that the prepaid wireless market has nearly doubled in five years, with revenue growing from $15.9 billion in 2009 to an estimated $28.4 billion this year.

Sprint holds a roughly 19 percent share of this growing market, through its Virgin Mobile and Boost brands. It trails rivals like T-Mobile, which commands roughly 25 percent of prepaid business, according to Atlantic ACM.

Additional reporting by Ina Fried.



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