Sprint Teams With Walmart to Bring Share Data to Pre-Paid Industry

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Sprint is the first major carrier to bring shared data to the pre-paid world, a move that may accelerate the brewing wireless battle in the low-end market.

On Saturday, Sprint, through its Virgin Mobile brand, will begin selling a contract-less family plan with its Virgin Mobile brand exclusively at Walmart. In August, the brand introduced Virgin Mobile Custom -- a plan allowing families to swap text, talk and data -- in partnership with Walmart. It's scrapping that offering, but keeping the retail giant onboard.

Sprint admitted it struggled to communicate the intricacies of the customizable plan, assigning some of the blame on Walmart's retail operations. Angela Rittgers, VP-pre-paid marketing at Sprint, explained the decision to Fierce Wireless, a trade publication:

"Once you play with it, it's completely understandable," Rittgers said. However, she conceded that Walmart did not have enough sales reps pushing the plans and that consumers "were having a hard time grasping, what is my rate plan?"

Rittgers said Sprint is sticking with Walmart as a partner because it has the single largest share of prepaid wireless sales in the U.S. "Knowing how much volume of prepaid sales they do, we think it's important to make sure we have the presence there and a great offering," she said.

Virgin's new offering, billed as "Data Done Right," keeps some of the custom features of the earlier plan -- such as the ability to buy access to apps (Facebook, Twitter, Pandora) in perpetuity -- but limits the swapping to data. The company will begin broader marketing soon, a Sprint spokeswoman said. It will rely, in part, on Walmart's "mommy blogger" network, as it did with the short-lived Custom plan.

These changes reflect two of the emerging traits of Sprint's new CEO, Marcelo Claure: an urge to simplify plans and a willingness to undercut competition. On the last earnings call, Mr. Claure repeated the mantra: "clarity, simplicity and value." Sprint owns three pre-paid brands but does not report separate financials. The carrier added 35,000 pre-paid connections in its last quarter, although it noted that Virgin Mobile lost customers.

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