Sprint Prepaid positioned as alternative to unlimited ahead of Virgin relaunch

Sprint Prepaid will be marketed as an alternative for users who don't want unlimited data, according to Wave7 Research.

Sprint is looking to position its carrier-branded prepaid offering as an alternative to unlimited data, but its plans for a revamped Virgin Mobile are as unclear as ever.

The No. 4 U.S. wireless carrier doubled down on its unlimited strategy this week, lowering the price to $50 a month for a single line and eliminating its tiered price plans. Sprint also killed its longtime 50% off promotion, but its new prices undercut the unlimited offerings of all three of its major competitors at every level up to four lines.

Pricing for a single line of the new unlimited plan increases to $50 a month after the first year, however. And Sprint Prepaid is beginning to be marketed as an option for users who don’t want all that data, Wave7 Research noted in a recent report.

“Sources say that while Sprint postpaid is dropping consumer tiered data, Sprint Prepaid will have the new role of being an option for customers who do not need a great amount of data and want to save money via adopting a tier of 3 GB or 5 GB,” Jeffrey Moore of Wave7 wrote in a note to subscribers. The market research firm previously reported that Sprint Prepaid is likely to see a relaunch in the next several weeks.

Sprint Prepaid currently offers 3 GB of data monthly for $40 to users who pay automatically; a 5 GB plan costs $50 a month. The carrier may alter its price plans with a relaunch. The prepaid service continues to be hampered by a lack of handset support, though, Wave7 noted.

“Currently, few Sprint stores have Sprint Prepaid displays (and boxes are empty when there are displays,” the firm observed. “Stores do have small signs offering unexplained prepaid discounts on iPhone 5S units, but reps are mostly unable to articulate this offer.” The carrier may extend Sprint Prepaid to its postpaid smartphone lineup, however, which would help address that challenge.

Sprint has struggled mightily to compete in a prepaid market that has become extremely competitive over the last two years. While T-Mobile’s MetroPCS and AT&T’s Cricket have thrived, Sprint lost 501,000 prepaid net customers in the final quarter of 2016. Analysts say Sprint’s Boost Mobile appeared to make significant progress in the last few months, though.

The looming question regarding Sprint’s prepaid strategy is Virgin Mobile. A relaunch of the brand was slated for the fourth quarter of 2016 but was quietly pushed back until sometime this year, and Sprint continues to experiment with various marketing strategies as it promises a “disrupter brand” in the prepaid market. Sprint has yet to commit to a relaunch date, though, saying only it will occur “soon.”

“Our goal is to bring ‘the Virgin way’ to mobile and challenge the status quo by providing services beyond just access to talk, text and data,” a Virgin Mobile spokesperson told FierceWireless. “Ultimately, this will change the way that our customers experience mobile and, in the Virgin spirit, change our business for good.”