What does Sprint's new unlimited plan mean for MVNO Helio?


Sprint has finally officialized its $99 all-you-can-consume plan for those with ravenous mobile appetites, but what’s interesting is that it’s Helio, an MVNO that lies atop the Sprint network, that first launched such plans. This means that Sprint is now undercutting one of it’s own partners at its own game. Or does it?

While Sprints unlimited plan is the most generous of the major US carriers, Helio still has more value for the money.

Both plans offer unlimited texting and voice, but Helio’s plan includes unlimited picture and video messaging as well. Sprint doesn’t bundle data with it’s plan, but Helio does. Both offer free web-browsing, but Helio offers an integrated YouTube client as well.

Helio also includes a real GPS with Google Maps for free; Sprint does have GPS and navigation, but at an extra charge.

We’re guessing that before this plan was finalized there was some discussions between the two carriers as we know they generally work close together. There were even rumors last year of a merger, or at least that Sprint would start installing Helio kiosks in its stores.

The market segments each respective carrier is going for is different as well; Sprint wants to be your family or business carrier, with good deals on multiple lines and voice, whereas Helio is for those people who’ve laughed at anything in Vice magazine.

Sprint also likes to advertise at Nascar events and promotes its Push To Talk service through popular subsidiary Nextel. That’s a decidedly blue-collar market that Helio really doesn’t aim for at all.

When it comes to the younger demographic, Sprint has more attractive deals for new customers, we rarely see Helio giving away free handsets, yet Sprint has a number of phones that are free when you sign up. And they’re not just last year’s RAZRs, either, Sprint has some pretty attractive entry model phones. The pull of not having to pay to get started sits well with the youth of today who, thanks to the Internet in the 90s, think everything should be free. That being said, the youth customers are also generally attracted to more complex and feature-rich technology; I can’t imagine my Mom using the QWERTY on a Helio Ocean, but everyone my age wants one.

We couldn’t get a comment from Sprint, but we ran our thoughts by Justin Ried from Helio, and he agreed that Sprint’s plan isn’t really a threat to Helio. “We’ve always been about pioneering plans that make it easy, from the concept of All-In to $99 Unlimited,” he said. “It’s nice to see the major carriers following Helio’s lead – but not all $99 plans are created equal.”

So in all, is Sprint shooting it’s largest MVNO in the foot with its similar unlimited plan? No way. Helio has more value-added action that Sprint can touch, and the fact that they’re catering to different audiences means that Sprint likely won’t be eating any of Helio’s lunch anytime soon.