Despite increased competition in wireless and a history of meltdowns in the space, two millionaire millennial entrepreneurs are launching a Sprint-powered MVNO in November called Wing that they believe will give AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and the rest of the market’s heavyweights a run for their money.
Wing arose from a simple question: “What else could we do with our lives?” explained Wing co-founder David Arabov. As detailed by Business Insider, Arabov, 27, and his Wing co-founder Jonathon Francis, 31, sold their first startup, Elite Daily (described as a Huffington Post for millennials), to the Daily Mail for $50 million in 2015.
After leaving the Daily Mail, Arabov and Francis separately traveled across the world (what else would you do with millions of dollars?) only to return to the United States to face sizable cell phone roaming charges. “It was kind of a lightbulb moment,” Arabov said. “This doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense here.”
The result is Wing, an MVNO that runs on Sprint’s network that is scheduled to exit its beta testing phase in November. (Wing notched over 3,000 registrants for its beta test in its first three days of availability, but Arabov declined to provide any further metrics on the business.)
Wing offers wireless service through a “dynamic pricing” model, where the company refunds the cost of data that customers don’t consume. Service prices range from 1 GB of high-speed LTE data for $20 per month to unlimited LTE data (that may be throttled after 22 GB) for $70 per month. “A lot of people are very big fans of that product,” Arabov said.
Wing’s pricing scheme most closely aligns with that of Ting, another Sprint MVNO that refunds unused data. In its most recent quarter, Ting counted 170,000 accounts and 278,000 devices, up from the 151,000 accounts and 245,000 devices it counted two quarters ago.
But dynamic pricing isn’t Wing’s only feature. To Arabov’s initial point about international roaming costs, Wing also offers international data starting at 1 GB for $13 per month across 130 countries. The MVNO also sells the latest smartphones, including Apple’s iPhone 8, as well as device financing options, bring-you-own-device services, and a leasing program that allows customers to upgrade to a new phone after making 12 monthly lease payments.
Arabov said Wing's commercial launch will coincide with “creative” marketing geared toward giving Wing some visibility among mass-market shoppers. Arabov declined to say exactly what Wing’s marketing strategy would consist of, but that it would leverage his experience building a $50 million media company in roughly three years. (As noted by Business Insider, Elite Daily reached 74 million monthly readers at the time of the company’s sale to Daily Mail.)
“I think we have the products that can compete with the Big Four,” Arabov said, adding that 87% of Wing’s beta customers previously bought service from Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon and AT&T.
Arabov said Wing is backed by angel investors, though he didn’t provide details.
As an MVNO, Wing is entering a storied and cutthroat market. MVNOs initially caught steam in the early 2000s as companies like Disney and ESPN tried their hand at mobile services. None of those initial MVNOs gained traction, but the space has recently seen several big new entrants like Comcast’s Xfinity Mobile and Google’s Project Fi.
But smaller MVNOs have a decidedly mixed track record. While players like Consumer Cellular, Straight Talk and others have found success, others like Defense Mobile, Scratch Wireless and Solavei have flamed out.