Sprint's Virgin finally re-emerges with iPhone-only strategy

Virgin Mobile finally announced its relaunch, revealing a partnership with Apple to sell nothing but iPhones.

Sprint’s prepaid brand is offering a year of so-called “unlimited” data for $1 to users who buy an iPhone and port their number to the new Inner Circle plan by July 31, or to current Virgin users who upgrade to an iPhone. The deal will be available exclusively through Virgin’s website and at Apple retail stores.

Handsets start at $279 for the iPhone SE and top out at $770 for the iPhone 7 Plus. After the first year, unlimited service will cost $50 a month.

Like many other unlimited plans, Virgin’s offering comes with some strings attached. Network speeds may be “deprioritized” once users exceed 23 GB in any particular month, voice minutes are capped at 800 minutes a month and domestic data roaming is capped at 100 MB per month. Also, video is limited to 480p+ resolution, music is limited to 500 Kbps and streaming cloud gaming is slowed to 2 Mbps.

The launch will mark the end of a long-delayed debut of the relaunch of Virgin, which Sprint has promised to be “disruptive.”

“Our next step will be a relaunch of the Virgin brand with a unique and disruptive offer in conjunction with Apple,” Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure said last month during the company’s quarterly conference call with analysts, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript of the event. Sprint during the period added 180,000 prepaid users, marking its return to growth in that competitive market for the first time in two years.

Claure’s comments are noteworthy since they come almost one year after he promised to relaunch the Virgin brand sometime in 2016. "We're also in the process of relaunching our Virgin brand this year with a much stronger value proposition," Claure said in May of 2016. Virgin is "going through a transformation," Claure added, and will be "a very different carrier than it used to be" when it relaunches sometime in the second half of 2016.