Sprint kicks off Framily, a group-based calling plan

Sprint (NYSE:S) rolled out a new calling circle offering, dubbed the "Framily Plan," in hopes of attracting more customers. In addition, the company expanded its Spark tri-band LTE service to six more markets. 

Sprint said that the new Framily Plan will be available starting Jan. 10. The friends-and-family service, which some might refer to as a calling circle, provides greater savings for everyone in the group as more people join.

Sprint CEO Dan Hesse, speaking in Las Vegas at the Citi 2014 Internet, Media & Telecommunications Conference, said the Framily plan is being offered because traditional family plans are not particularly useful to households with only one or two people. Each account can be billed separately, and Framily members will not have the hassle of sharing data, he added.  

The new plan will be available to new and existing Sprint customers and has a limit of 10 phone numbers per group.

New Sprint customers pay $55 per month per line for unlimited talk, text and 1GB of data. For each new Sprint customer joining a Framily group, the cost per person will drop $5 a month up to a maximum monthly discount of $30 per line. A group of at least seven people will get unlimited talk, text and 1GB of data for $25 per month per line, excluding taxes and surcharges. In addition, Framily members can each pay $20 per month per line to buy unlimited data plus get a new phone every year, or they can add 1 GB or 3 GB per month to their plan. Interestingly, if they travel over their data allotment they will be charged overage fees.

The plan is primarily aimed at customers who have paid full price for their Sprint-compatible phones. But according to Sprint's website, a Sprint customer with a discounted phone who is eligible for an upgrade, can switch to the Framily plan. Customers who are not upgrade eligible can change to Framily by paying an additional $15 per month per line until they are upgrade eligible or after 12 consecutive months of billing on the $20 per month unlimited data plan plus the annual upgrade buy up, whichever comes first.

In comments at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Sprint CTO Stephen Bye explained that Sprint's new Framily plans are intended to attract price-sensitive customers who may not be willing to pay for the carrier's unlimited data plans. The Framily plans, Bye explained, could serve as an onboarding mechanism to get new customers onto Sprint's network. Further, he said, "there's a lot of customers who use less than 1 GB per month."

Sprint also unveiled an installment plan for new devices. Called Sprint Easy Pay, customers can get a smartphone or basic phone for a simple down payment and 24 monthly payments with no financing fees. Sprint said the offer is available at select Sprint stores and will be coming to Sprint.com and other channels soon.

Sprint also said it is expanding its Spark tri-band LTE service, adding six new markets including the Texas cities of Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio, as well as in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Spark is now available in 11 markets.

Announced in October, Spark is a wireless service that will work via the combination of Sprint's 800 MHz, 1.9 GHz and 2.5 GHz LTE spectrum. The technology will combine Sprint's FDD-LTE network in its 800 MHz and 1.9 GHz spectrum and its planned TD-LTE network in its 2.5 GHz spectrum. Sprint also intends to use carrier aggregation technology in the 2.5 GHz band to implement Spark.

Spark service will also be marketed to Virgin Mobile USA's Broadband2Go prepaid customers, whose no-contract plans also include daily service on Sprint's 3G and LTE networks where available. Virgin, a Sprint sub-brand, will begin offering Netgear's Mingle tri-band mobile hotspot to customers this quarter.

Broadband2Go no-contract service costs $5 per day. Monthly data plans cost $25 for 1.5 GB of data or $55 for 6 GB.

Sprint also said the LG G2 will become tri-band enabled through a software update later this month. In addition, the Nexus 5 by LG; LG G Flex curved, flexible smartphone; and Netgear LTE Gateway 6100D fixed, wireless router will soon join the initial group of Spark-enabled devices.

The operator is pushing the Netgear router as a solution for backing up or replacing primary Internet service in businesses "because it can connect up to 80 Wi-Fi users while using the high-speed capabilities of Sprint Spark."

With these announcements, Sprint has three Spark-enabled mobile hotspots and seven Spark-enabled smartphones, Hesse said.

Going forward, Sprint Spark will continue to be rolled out to select markets rather than nationwide. "You'll be seeing Spark-specific messages, marketing plans and what have you on a city-by-city basis," said Hesse.

"At some point in time, we haven't determined when," Sprint will engage in national marketing for Sprint Spark, he continued. But Hesse said the operator has not yet determined the "magic number" of markets or POPs covered that will cause marketing to evolve from a local to a national basis.

For more:
- see this Sprint release and this webpage
- see this The Verge article

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Article updated Jan. 7 to include additional information.