As the wireless carrier wars continue heating up, Virgin Mobile just threw the customization coal onto the fire. The Sprint-owned company has rolled out Virgin Mobile Custom, a no-annual-contract plan sporting parental controls and rate plans that cater to individual usage trends.
Here’s how it works: Customers can activate up to five lines at prices starting at $6.98 per line per month when they purchase designated “custom” phones and activate those devices on Virgin’s base or unlimited plan. The base plan comes with 20 texts and 20 voice minutes.
Customers can also purchase only unlimited texting for $10 or only unlimited voice for $18. The most unique differentiator, though is the ability to pick and choose “add-ons” that offer unlimited access to apps like Facebook or Pandora, or 30 minutes of international calling to specific countries every month or month-by-month.
Manage Your Spending
“Custom represents both our first multi-line plan and a new model for buying no-contract wireless that gives consumers greater choice and control than ever before,” said Dow Draper, president of the Sprint Prepaid Group. “Our customers will have a whole new level of spending management, plan customization, and parental control. They can tailor what they pay for to match their own and their family’s needs.”
Draper explained that parental controls let parents manage their children’s phones by limiting when they can access different features, apps and Web sites. In a noteworthy move, parents who are already locked into contracts with other carriers can choose to tap into these controls by downloading a free iOS or Android app.
Virgin Mobile Custom is initially rolling out on three devices: ZTE Emblem for $79.88, LG Pulse for $99.88, or LG Unify for $129.88. These phones all tote large touchscreen displays, 5-megapixel rear-facing cameras, front-facing cameras for video calls, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. The devices are available at Walmart stores.
A la Carte Smartphone Services
We caught up with Jeff Kagan, an independent technology analyst, to get his take on the new plans. He told us it makes a lot of sense for a segment of the customer universe.
“This lets the customer customize their wireless device. It lets them choose the service they want and get charged for that service only,” Kagan said. “So if a customer only uses a limited number of apps, they may indeed save money this way. Think of this like a la carte for smartphone services.”
Although Kagan said the plan is clearly not for every customer, it should be attractive for a slice of the customer pie and it’s an important marketplace development. He called it “customer-friendly.”
“This is a first, but I think we will see this spreading to other wireless carriers as well over time. The wireless world continues to innovate and change,” Kagan said. “Yesterday there were plenty of potential smartphone customers to sell to. Today they all have a smartphone so competitors must compete against each other.”