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No-Contract Data Sharing Plan? Why Not, Says Virgin Mobile

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Sprint-owned Virgin Mobile unveiled a data share plan for prepaid users that it will offer through its retail partner Walmart.

Family plans with shared data have been popular among other wireless carriers, and Virgin Mobile looks to find similar success by being the first operator to offer such a service to prepaid customers.

The options under Virgin Mobile's data share plan include a 4GB plan for two users at $65 per month, an 8GB plan for three users at $90 per month and a 12GB plan for four users at $115 per month.

After the data for the plans are used up by the users, the speeds of the service will be brought down to a crawling pace of 2G.

Virgin Mobile's new offering is the company's latest move amid an increasingly aggressive industry, with the prepaid business considered critical space for growth within the wireless carrier industry.

The timing of the new offering, at the first quarter of the year, is also crucial due to the early tax returns that people will be receiving, as the extra cash will drive consumers to purchase additional prepaid services.

Rival T-Mobile unveiled the Simply Prepaid program recently, which offers users more data at a similar price. T-Mobile has also been focusing on its MetroPCS division for growth in the prepaid business, with industry leader AT&T also pouring investments for the marketing of the company's Cricket prepaid division.

Virgin Mobile, in addition to sister prepaid company Boost Mobile, is integral to the plan of Marcelo Claure, CEO of Sprint, to inject growth into the company.

"We feel there's an opportunity to really disrupt the family plan space by bringing shared data to the market," said Angela Rittgers, Sprint vice president of prepaid marketing.

In addition to the prepaid shared data plan, Virgin Mobile is also giving users the option to change the amount of data that each member has access to on the fly. Sprint acquired the technology from ItsOn, a startup company, allowing for the launch last year of Virgin Custom. The service allows users to use an app to change the number of messages and length of calls that users need in their plan any time.

Virgin Mobile will be applying this technology to the prepaid shared data plan, with users portioning the data or allotting a percentage of the data for the month to one of the members of the plan through an app.

However, the capability requires special software, with only four smartphones available to use the service upon its launch. These are the $80 LG Tribute, $100 HTC Desire 510, $130 Samsung Galaxy Core Prime and $150 LG Volt.

Customers can also choose to purchase additional data, with 1GB starting at $10 per month. Similar to T-Mobile, Sprint will not count streaming music and social media activities on the data cap.

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