In the ongoing battle to capture mobile service customers, Sprint has just thrown down the gauntlet with a potentially game-changing feature: unlimited mobile-to-mobile calling...regardless of mobile carrier.
You read that right. The concept of unlimited mobile-to-mobile calling is not new. I have unlimited mobile-to-mobile calling and unlimited night and weekend calling in addition to the minutes in my AT&T Family Talk plan. But, my mobile-to-mobile only includes calling other AT&T mobile numbers. Sprint is opening the floodgate and allowing customers to make unlimited mobile-to-mobile calls domestically even if the recipient is using AT&T, or Verizon, or T-Mobile, or any other domestic carrier.
There are a couple smaller mobile service providers, such as Virgin Mobile (which Sprint agreed to purchase earlier this year) and Boost, offering completely unlimited calling without a contract for about $50 a month. Those plans are completely unlimited regardless of whether calls are placed to mobile or landline recipients. Among the big 4 mobile carriers in the United States though, Sprint's new offering is unique.
The move is probably at least partly in response to those smaller no contract providers. Customers are typically willing to commit to a 1 or 2 year contract with a mobile carrier in order to get cutting edge mobile phone technology at subsidized prices. Subscribers can get an iPhone from AT&T for about $100 with a contract, but without a contract the device costs more like $600.
But, an increasing number of customers are willing to forego the bleeding edge equipment in favor of no-commitment pricing with virtually unlimited bells and whistles at an affordable flat rate. Sprint may be able to retain more customers and possibly even win some of the no-commitment crowd over with the unlimited mobile-to-mobile plan.
How long will it take before other carriers follow suit? Its hard to say. Alltel pioneered the idea of selecting 5 phone numbers for unlimited minutes with its My Circle plan in early 2006. T-Mobile co-opted the concept and dubbed it Fave 5. Verizon then rolled out the Friends and Family plan. Just this week word has leaked that AT&T will introduce the A-List plan later this month. That is a cycle of over three years to make the rounds, and Spring hasn't yet jumped on that bandwagon.
Sprint is the third place carrier in the United States. It is comfortably ahead of T-Mobile, but well behind both AT&T and Verizon. Sprint isn't going down without a fight though.
Sprint is running neck and neck with Verizon in the race to roll out next generation 4G broadband wireless networks. Sprint is the exclusive provider of the Palm Pre, a cutting edge platform designed to take on the iPhone. And now, Sprint is blazing new paths with mobile pricing plans that raise the bar for the industry and set it apart from its competitors.
Based on the evolutionary timeframe for carriers adopting the Alltel My Circle concept, I guess I can look forward to unlimited vendor agnostic mobile-to-mobile coming to AT&T around....2012.
Tony Bradley is an information security and unified communications expert with more than a decade of enterprise IT experience. He tweets as @PCSecurityNews and provides tips, advice and reviews on information security and unified communications technologies on his site at tonybradley.com.