Under its Virgin Mobile prepaid banner, Sprint will offer a monthly Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram-only plan to consumers who use the phone for gabbing about as often as their parents sent a telegram for $12 to $15 (the amount varies in different accounts, as it always seems to do when you’re talking phone bills). Or they can get all four for about $10 more. And $5 will get them unlimited streaming of a music app such as Pandora or Spotify.
“The plan … comes as wireless carriers are experimenting with ways to make wireless Internet access more affordable for the poorest consumers by offering special deals on slices of the Web,” writes Ryan Knutsen in the Wall Street Journal.
But it also addresses a social phenomenon.
“Phone have migrated largely away from ‘talking’ at this point and are much more utilized for apps, searching and making purchases,” Ken Wisnefski, founder and CEO of online marketing agency WebMax, tells ABS News’ Susanna Kim. “Talking is secondary. Who talks on a phone anymore?” Further, he adds, “over time, people have begun to abandon their laptop and now use their phone for everything.”
Writes Chris Welch on The Verge: The “plans may be seen as convenient by many consumers, but they also represent the most glaring net neutrality foul we've seen come from a U.S. carrier.”
“Some consumer advocates and entrepreneurs worry these types of arrangements could create an unfair advantage for well-established apps,” WSJ’s Knutsen points out.
“That helps lock in the existing choices and not let the new ones grow more organically,” Matt Wood, policy director at the consumer group Free Press, tells him. “That's just not the way the Internet has worked.”
Sprint actually unveiled its broader Virgin Mobile Custom brand extension yesterday, which will roll out exclusively through Walmart starting on Aug. 9 and offers “a wide range of calling, texting and data options to suit individual needs while avoiding annual contracts” starting at $6.98 per line (20 texts and 20 talk minutes). An “Unlimited” talk and text plan is $35.
“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,” reports Re/Code’s Dawn Chmielewski.
“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.”
“To take advantage of the service, you'll have to buy one of three phones at Walmart: the $79.88 ZTE Emblem, $99.88 LG Pulse, or $129.88 LG Unify,” reportsUSA Today’s Edward C. Baig. “The Unify is the only one of the three capable of tapping into speedier LTE wireless service.”
Sprint is also touting “unique parental controls” that allow parents to “manage their child’s phone use by limiting when kids have access to different features, apps and websites” in a BusinessWire release. And the “plans can be adjusted at any time during the month, even daily, directly from each person’s device” — or from the device of the master of the family universe, much to the delight of the kiddos, no doubt.
Not only that, reports CNET’s Roger Cheng, Sprint will have an app for iOS or Android phones on Sept. 1 that allows “customers on another carrier to manage a Virgin account. For instance, a father on Verizon Wireless may have several children on the lower-cost Virgin plans.”
What the ability to adjust the plans means to the bottom line, Mark Davis reveals in the Kansas City Star, is that “if you bought way more minutes — or texts or data — than you’ve used, [you can] return them by reducing your service plan before your billing cycle ends and get credit on next month’s bill.” Minimums do apply — 250 minutes of voice, for example.
Other carriers have also been wooing customers who can’t count on employers or affluent parents to foot three-figure monthly charges.
“T-Mobile announced in June that it would stop counting data consumed by music streaming towards monthly caps, one of the perks of its ‘Un-Carrier’ initiative to get away from some of the wireless industry’s long-held policies,” reportsTime’s Jack Linshi. “Earlier this year, AT&T unveiled a ‘sponsored data’ service where sponsors can entice subscribers to try out their apps while the related data use is billed to the sponsors.”
The days of One Ringy-Dingy — and outrageous $23.64 phone bills — seem awfully quaint, do they not?