Visible, the Verizon-backed prepaid carrier that quietly came on the scene in May 2018, has taken a different approach than other players in the space, opting to forgo both traditional advertising and brick-and-mortar stores for a strictly online presence.
Jeffrey Moore, principal analyst at Wave7 Research, previously referred to the prepaid brand as “a slow train coming down the tracks.”
That analogy is still applicable, he said, as Visible last week launched its latest offering, a form of family plan called Party Pay that gives discounts on unlimited plans for groups of up to four people.
“Visible seems to be making one move after another that makes it more and more of a viable carrier,” Moore said. “Highly affordable family plans is another step in that direction.”
Visible’s regular plan costs $40 per month on a single line for unlimited talk, text, and data, with mobile hotspot included, running on Verizon’s 4G LTE network. With Party Pay, groups of two get the same features for $35 per line per month, groups of three pay $30 per line/month, and parties of four get the plan for $25 per line/per month.
Moore pointed to earlier moves that Visible has taken to become more competitive, like expanding support to include Android devices from the unlocked iPhone-only option that was initially available. It also introduced device financing for certain handsets, and this year released its first exclusive smartphone, the low-cost Visible R2 by ZTE, at what he called a very affordable price point. In June, Visible uncapped data speeds that were previously maxed out at 5 Mbps (mobile hotspot data still tops out at that figure.)
“Visible has a record of innovating based on consumer feedback,” a spokesperson said in emailed comments. “The introduction of Party Pay is the next iteration of our efforts to build a phone service built with consumers’ specific preferences in mind.”
On Visible’s new group plans, all individuals are billed separately and only responsible for their portion of the plan.
“People have been asking for a way to pay with family and friends for a while, so we’re giving them that option. In our research, consumers indicated they were looking not only for a high quality of service, but an independent way to pay their own bill. With Party Pay, you have the flexibility to pay alongside others, without sharing data,” the spokesperson said.
One other unique feature of the Party Pay option is that consumers can choose to leave the group at any time without approval or penalty. Other members will be notified via an email or push notification, and granted a grace period before the next billing cycle to invite a new member.
Visible’s interesting, but unproven prepaid business model
Although it keeps making moves, Visible has still largely flown under the radar, and Moore reiterated that Wave7 Research has not yet seen any competitive impact from the carrier in the prepaid market.
It may have something to do with Visible’s unconventional business model, which he said is one of the more interesting ones in a prepaid space that already has quite a bit of variety. Aside from a small amount of online promotion, Visible doesn’t advertise.
“We don’t see any print ads, we don’t see TV ads or hear radio ads from them, and they don’t’ have a retail presence so it truly is all done online,” Moore said.
That’s in contrast to a brand like Mint Mobile, which also largely forgoes a retail presence save for SIMs sold in Best Buy stores, but does “a massive amount of TV advertising.”
Then, there are carriers like Ultra Mobile that don't advertise substantially, he said, but have a strong presence through independent dealer stores.
Still, Visible’s business model is unproven as of yet and most top prepaid carriers believe “it’s crucial” to have a presence within the multi-carrier stores or national retailers, Moore explained, Mint SIMs in Best Buy being one example.
With Visible the company mails a SIM card to users who then activates service.
“And many believe that advertising is important,” Moore said, noting major prepaid brands like Tracfone, Sprint's Boost Mobile, AT&T's Cricket, no-contract provider Consumer Cellular and Metro by T-Mobile all have TV advertising.
“That’s certainly something Visible doesn’t do, so it’s a very different business model.”
Still, Visible’s $40 per line unlimited offer on Verizon’s 4G LTE network is a solid plan, Moore said. That, taken together with Visible’s continued steps toward more competitive features and the fact that parent Verizon could choose to throw significant resources behind the company, means the fledgling prepaid brand has potential to thrust itself into the position of an impactful prepaid player, he indicated.
Although Visible is owned by Verizon and led by Verizon-alum, it operates independently, and doesn’t promote its connection to the nation’s largest wireless carrier, unlike other major carrier-owned prepaid brands such as Metro by T-Mobile. Verizon for its part has thousands of retail stores and a major advertising presence.
In terms of when that Visible train may make it to the station, Moore said new offers like the recent Party Pay family plans should give some insight as to whether the all-digital approach is working. If there’s no traction, he said Verizon may need to adjust its model to include retail distribution or advertising.
“I think moves like this will tell the tale on [prepaid impact] because this is competitive pricing, it’s a good network and if people aren’t moved to try out Visible now then there must be a reason,” he said. “It could be the business model of not having stores or not having advertising to build awareness."