Sprint launches personalized Virgin Mobile Custom prepaid brand using ItsOn technology

Sprint (NYSE: S) will launch a new prepaid brand called Virgin Mobile Custom that will use cloud-based billing and service platform technology from ItsOn, allowing customers create a mobile service plan they can customize on the fly.

The Virgin Mobile Custom service, which Sprint and ItsOn hinted at earlier this month, will launch on Aug. 9 exclusively through Walmart. Sprint is positioning the service primarily at families who want to maximize savings and individuals who want customized data plans.

Virgin Mobile Custom customers can activate up to five lines for as little as $6.98 per line per month, and the basic service comes with 20 texts and 20 voice minutes. Other parts of the offering include:  

  • Unlimited Plans: Customers can purchase unlimited texting for $10 or unlimited voice for $18. Customers can pay $35 per month to get unlimited voice and texting.
  • Data add-ons: Customers can add 250 MB for $8, 500 MB for $13.50, 750 MB for $16, 1 GB for $18.50 and 2 GB for $28.
  • Special Offers: Virgin Mobile Custom supports application-specific data add-ons if customers want to get unlimited access to only certain apps, such as unlimited Facebook or unlimited music streaming across various services, which costs around $5 per month. Or users can access to unlimited social networking for around $15. Those kinds of services can be added on a recurring or non-recurring basis.

Importantly, customers can adjust the plans at any time during the month, including once per day or multiple times a day. Subscribers can do so directly from their device. Customers can get an instant, exact amount of what their mobile monthly charge will be before they confirm the changes.

These were the same types of services available from ItsOn's Zact service, a Sprint MVNO that is being shut down to make way for Virgin Mobile Custom. Sprint in June announced it would use ItsOn's cloud-based OSS/BSS services. ItsOn boasts that it lets carriers virtualize service policy control, billing and traffic-management functions for data, voice and texting services.

At launch, Virgin Mobile Custom will be available on only three Android-based devices: the ZTE Emblem for $79.88; LG Pulse for $99.88; and the LTE-capale LG Unify for $129.88. Angela Rittgers, Sprint's vice president of prepaid marketing, said the service will expand to more devices early next year.

In an interview with FierceWireless, Rittgers stressed that personalization is a key component of the new plans. She said the plans let customers "build the plan exactly how they need it," with the ability to make changes in real time. "They can dial up the plan or dial it down, and if they are using less, they can get a credit," she said.

Rittgers said the ItsOn technology is "something we could explore leveraging on our other brands," but she said that it is being limited to Virgin Mobile Custom for now.

The plans also let customers share voice, texting and data buckets. The head of a household can pick how that is allocated among the different people in the family. Users can define different thresholds for any combination of voice, texting or data.

Virgin Mobile Custom also comes with parental controls. Rittgers noted that most parental controls on wireless networks only cover data that goes over cellular, not Wi-Fi, and do not give device-level control. The new Sprint service lets parents determine when to shut off data access for their kids' phones and can let them have specific control over applications, so that, for example, only an alarm clock app can be used from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Finally, parents can choose to use their existing smartphone on any carrier and still manage the controls on Virgin Mobile Custom devices. Starting Sept. 1, they can purchase a Custom smartphone for their child or other user, download the Custom Control App from the Apple App Store or Google Play for free, and manage their kids' usage.

ItsOn CEO Greg Raleigh old FierceWireless that Sprint is taking advantage of the technology to "give people more choice. It's a very significant departure from anything that's in the market right now."

"They are going to have more competitive flexibility than any of the other operators in the U.S.," he added.

ItsOn's Zact subscribers will be able to migrate to the Virgin Mobile Custom service or can find a different carrier. Their service will be discontinued as of Aug. 3.

For more:
- see this release
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)

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Correction, July 31, 2014: This article incorrectly stated the prices of the devices available for the Virgin Mobile Custom plans. Additionally, the article incorrectly stated when Zact service will be discontinued; it will stop on Aug. 3.