Sprint’s long-delayed Virgin relaunch could bundle cheap iPhones with an unlimited plan

Sprint's Virgin Mobile currently sells the Apple iPhone 7. Image: Apple

Sprint’s CEO this week promised that the company’s delayed relaunch of its Virgin prepaid brand would include a “disruptive” offer from Apple. That statement has led some in the industry to speculate that Sprint may soon offer cheaper, used iPhones coupled with a less expensive unlimited service from its Virgin brand.

“Our next step will be a relaunch of the Virgin brand with a unique and disruptive offer in conjunction with Apple,” Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure said this week during the company’s quarterly conference call with analysts, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript of the event. Sprint during the period added 180,000 prepaid users, marking its return to growth in that competitive market for the first time in two years.

Claure’s comments are noteworthy since they come almost one year after he promised to relaunch the Virgin brand sometime in 2016. "We're also in the process of relaunching our Virgin brand this year with a much stronger value proposition," Claure said in May of 2016. Virgin is "going through a transformation," Claure added, and will be "a very different carrier than it used to be" when it relaunches sometime in the second half of 2016.

Sprint indeed appeared on the path toward a Virgin relaunch; in June of last year the company appointed Dow Draper as CEO of Virgin Mobile, and a month later the company said it would move its Virgin headquarters from Warren, New Jersey, to a new location in Kansas City, Missouri, and would hire more than 50 new employees for the relaunch.

That relaunch never happened, though, and in the interim all of the major U.S. wireless carriers have launched unlimited data services on their postpaid and prepaid services.

Citing sources at the carrier, Wave7 Research reported recently that Sprint’s Virgin relaunch was moved back from the spring of this year to the summer of this year. The firm also speculated that, based on Claure’s comments this week about a “disruptive and unique” offer from Apple, Sprint might take the used iPhones it obtains through its “iPhone Forever” program and resell them to Virgin users as part of the brand’s relaunch.

“Given that iPhone pricing starts at ~$400 with the iPhone SE, Wave7 Research analytically (not based on sources) believes that Virgin may be weighing some sort of offer that involves used iPhones, possibly with some spin about the devices being certified and insured. Sale of used iPhones has been a major initiative for Boost [another Sprint prepaid brand] since 4Q16,” Wave7 wrote in a recent report.

Indeed, Sprint and T-Mobile aren’t the only carriers to discuss such a strategy. Shortly after AT&T acquired prepaid Cricket provider Leap Wireless, AT&T executives noted that the phones the company obtained on the postpaid side of its business could be resold through AT&T’s Cricket brand.

Article updated May 5 to correct information about Boost.