Virgin Mobile USA is set to refine its rate plans and data speeds, moves that align the company with its direct rivals and could provide a peak at the future of parent company Sprint Nextel Corp.’s (S) plans for data services.
Citing the increased data usage by consumers, Virgin Mobile USA said it will adjust the pricing of its Beyond Talk plans beginning July 20. The company’s entry-level plan will go from $25 to $35 per month for the same 300 anytime calling minutes, unlimited messaging and data, but will now include the previous $10 BlackBerry add-on.
The $40 plan that included 1,200 anytime calling minutes, unlimited messaging and data will now be priced at $45, but will also include the $10 BlackBerry add-on.
At the high end, Virgin Mobile USA cut the pricing of its unlimited Beyond Talk plan from $60 to $55 and is also throwing in the BlackBerry add-on for no charge.
Virgin Mobile USA noted that existing Beyond Talk customers could remain on their current plans as long as they don’t let their accounts expire. This includes device upgrades.
Virgin Mobile USA’s Beyond Talk plans were introduced last year and were seen as a very aggressive move in the prepaid mobile space targeting consumers that focus more on data and messaging services. Along with fellow Sprint Nextel subsidiary Boost Mobile, Virgin Mobile USA has been at the forefront of the strong prepaid growth posted by its parent company over the past several quarters.
The new rate plans position Virgin Mobile USA closer to Boost Mobile, which offers an unlimited plan for $50 per month – a rate that can shrink to as low as $35 per month over time. The new pricing is also more in line with pricing from prepaid rivals MetroPCS Communications Inc. and Leap Wireless International Inc.’s Cricket service.
A recent J.D. Powers and Associates survey found that prepaid consumers were increasingly turning to monthly rate plans and away from more traditional pay-per-minute plans.
Data throttling set for October
Beginning in October Virgin Mobile USA is also implementing data speed throttling for consumers that exceed 2.5 gigabytes of data transmission per month. The carrier has been using that threshold and data throttling for its Broadband2Go offering. Once a customer exceeds that data threshold, they will have their regular 3G connection speeds cut to 256 kilobits per second through the end of their billing cycle.
Virgin Mobile USA noted that less than 3% of its customers use more than 2.5 GB of data per month.
Currently Sprint Nextel is the only nationwide operator that does not cap or throttle data usage for smartphones on its network, a selling point analysts feel could benefit the operator. However, with data usage continuing to skyrocket, many feel that it will be only a matter of time before Sprint Nextel is forced to implement some form of control.
Sprint Nextel CEO Dan Hesse has said the carrier was looking at some form of data management, but has yet to decide on a plan. But, with the capabilities for throttling already in its system, the move for Sprint Nextel into that realm would appear to be smooth.
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