Verizon’s Denver-based prepaid subsidiary, Visible, quietly launched last May and promised to bring a fresh new angle to the already-crowded prepaid market. Although the company has made little noise in the market since its debut, analysts say that Visible is getting more aggressive with its advertising and is starting to create some buzz. The company recently took over empty buildings in 10 cities, painted facades on those buildings and hung signs that said “404 Store Not Found.” It also placed ads in bus shelters in cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago.
In addition, the company exhibited at the recent SXSW tech conference and music festival in Austin, Texas, to bring more attention to the fledgling brand. And expect to hear more from Visible in the coming weeks. A company spokeswoman hinted that the prepaid brand will be making some announcements soon.
Analyst Jeff Moore of Wave7 Research studies the prepaid market. He said that currently he’s not seeing a lot of impact from Visible, but he doesn’t consider it a failure. Instead, he believes Visible is “a slow train coming down the tracks.”
Similar to “gig-economy” companies like Lyft or Airbnb, Visible’s goal is to bring affordable wireless service to consumers via an online app. By forgoing call centers and costly brick-and-mortar stores, the prepaid brand says it can offer a lower priced service and streamline the wireless buying process. The company’s prepaid wireless offering is just $40 per month, and that includes unlimited everything, including hotspot coverage.
The service is compatible with most iPhones and popular Android phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+. It also supports the ZTE Visible R2, which is a low-cost Android phone.
But analysts say that there are a few catches. For example, Visible users’ download speed is limited to 5 Mbps. The company says that this speed is fast enough to stream 480p videos and to FaceTime with friends, but it’s considerably slower than typical download speeds that Verizon customers get. According to Jean Baptiste Su, vice president of advanced technologies at Atherton Research, Visible’s $40 price plan is compelling because it includes unlimited data and hotspot capability. MetroPCS also offers hotspot capability but at a higher price point of $50 per month for 5 GB. “For U.S.-only coverage, Visible is the best unlimited prepaid [offer],” said Su.
Su notes that Visible is good for U.S.-only coverage because the company’s plan doesn’t include international coverage for texting, data or calling. This is where Visible diverges from bigger prepaid operators like Cricket, which offers roaming, international long distance and text messaging in Mexico and Canada for no extra cost with its unlimited plans. However, Visible says that with apps like WhatsApp or Messenger, international texting is not much of an issue.
It's notable that Verizon is making more of an effort in the prepaid space. The company offers its own branded prepaid unlimited plan, but it’s priced at a hefty $65 per month if subscribers use the auto-pay option. Visible says that although it's funded by Verizon, it operates primarily independently of the company. That makes it different from T-Mobile’s MetroPCS or AT&T’s Cricket, which work closely with the corporate parents on strategy.