Sprint's Virgin Mobile reportedly given small iPhone marketing window

Sprint Nextel's (NYSE:S) Virgin Mobile brand has started a full-throated marketing effort for its prepaid version of Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone--but will soon need to quiet the campaign, according to a Dow Jones Newswires report.

The report, citing an unnamed source, said that Apple will soon impose an advertising blackout, which could cut into Virgin's iPhone sales. Apple is widely expected to unveil the next iPhone at an event on Sept. 12.

Virgin, which started selling the iPhone June 29, has been advertising the iPhone but has not been able to get much exposure for the device since Apple needs to approve its marketing plans. Now that Apple has, Virgin started airing its first TV commercials Friday, but the blackout will end those spots in about a week. Virgin, which started selling the iPhone through Walmart and Target in late July, has also taken out full-page advertisements in magazines like Sports Illustrated and Entertainment Weekly.

Virgin became the second U.S. prepaid carrier to carry the iPhone after Cricket provider Leap Wireless (NASDAQ:LEAP), which launched the iPhone June 22. Virgin opened its first 10 branded retail stores in Chicago to capitalize on the launch, and also initially sold the phone through RadioShack and Best Buy.

Sprint and Apple declined to comment, according to the report.

Virgin is offering customers the iPhone for $649 for a 16 GB iPhone 4S and $549 for an 8 GB iPhone 4. The prepaid carrier said its Beyond Talk pricing plans for the iPhone will start at $30 per month but will require customers to register for automatic monthly payments. Virgin customers can choose from a $30 plan with 300 voice minutes and unlimited texting and data, a $40 plan with 1,200 minutes and unlimited texting and data, and a $50 plan with unlimited voice, texting and data. All of the plans have a 2.5 GB data cap, after which customers' data speeds will be throttled for the remainder of their billing cycle.

Sprint, which signed a $15.5 billion, four-year deal with Apple to sell the iPhone, is looking for multiple sales channels through which it can sell the iPhone, but has said it is ahead of pace in its commitment to Apple. Sprint does not break out how many prepaid iPhones it sells, but through the end of the second quarter it sold 4.8 million iPhones overall since the gadget went on sale through the carrier in the fourth quarter of 2011.

For more:
- see this Dow Jones Newswires article

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