SAN FRANCISCO—Say the word “Sprint” and most consumers think of one nationwide wireless brand. But the carrier actually embodies many brands that seem to keep multiplying. Under Sprint’s umbrella, for example, are four very different prepaid offerings.
Sprint has its own prepaid business unit and has seen an increase in consumer interest from people who don’t want to be locked into a contract, spokeswoman Nichole Cappitelli said in an interview at the CTIA Enterprise & Applications conference. She said some but not all of the growth is caused by the recession. Long term, Cappitelli said, Sprint believes prepaid plans will be increasingly attractive to targeted consumers.
The latest prepaid offering, called Common Cents Mobile, was launched in May exclusively through Wal-Mart. Last December, the carrier started offering its government-subsidized service, called Assurance Wireless, which is available in 11 states now for low-income consumers. These are in addition to Sprint’s more established prepaid brands, Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile.
Sprint doesn’t break out numbers for each of the prepaid brands, but Cappitelli said they all are seeing strong growth. Sprint would like to see Assurance offered in every state, but it takes time to roll out the brand because it is done state-by-state, similar to how Medicaid and food stamps are handled.
The Common Sense brand is a no-frills, pay-by-the-minute plan for consumers who don’t want an unlimited plan, Cappitelli said. It offers 7-cents per minute and 7-cent text messages, with a “round down” feature on voice calls.
Sprint has said it believes the prepaid market will primarily attract pay-by-the-minute customers, although unlimited monthly plans without contracts will still be a draw for many consumers.
Common Cents Mobile is offered through 1,025 Wal-Mart stores. Wal-Mart also sells Straight Talk mobile through the Verizon Wireless network and Wal-Mart Family Mobile on the T-Mobile USA network.
Cappitelli said prepaid plans used to have a stigma that they offered only cheaper phones, but that’s no longer the case. Virgin Mobile, for instance, just launched the Android-powered Samsung Intercept while Boost is selling the BlackBerry 8530 Curve.
Boost Mobile targets consumers who want unlimited voice, data and texting, while Virgin Mobile has a more youth focus for those interested in texting and data.
Even though the recession increased consumer interest in prepaid plans, Cappitelli said prepaid has a bright future because consumers likely will remain budget-conscious for some time.