August 19, 2014

Sprint says good-bye to the Framily

Sprint says it will use a new pricing strategy that offers lots more data than rival carriers.

Sprint Corp. is killing its Framily discount plan and launching new pricing that tries to attract customers by doubling the data that rival carriers offer smartphone users.

New chief executive Marcelo Claure announced the shift Monday.

“There’s no longer going to be Framily as of this Friday,” Claure said to employees, who met the news with a mixture of oohs and applause.

Framily was Sprint’s effort to turn customers into recruiters – wooing consumers with what some saw as odd TV commercials featuring a talking hamster as a father and other strange Framily members.

Subscribers with Framily accounts get bigger discounts by adding more customers to their own accounts. It largely didn’t work, but Sprint will continue to honor the Framily discounts customers now have.

Employees cheered when Claure unveiled Sprint’s new sales pitch, a shared data plan called Sprint Family Share Pack. It looks much like the shared data plans at larger rivals AT&T and Verizon but with a twist.

“We’re going to double the high speed data at the same or lower price than AT&T or Verizon,” Claure said.

Sprint’s double-the-data theme applies to its new everyday pricing that mimic’s the big carriers’ plans and a new promotion that lines up in many ways with one now running at T-Mobile, though with more data and more lines.

Sprint’s promotional plan allows up to 10 lines on an account for $100 a month and the lines all share 20 gigabytes of data. Each line also gets 2 gigabytes of data of its own.

T-Mobile’s promotion provides 2.5 gigabytes of data for each of four lines, which totals 10 gigabytes, at $100 a month.

Data has become the battlegrounds for carriers, which generally allow unlimited phone call minutes and texts with their plans. Smartphones consume data when their owners stream video or music, download apps or perform other popular functions.

Both companies are running the promotions until the end of September. Customers’ plans will revert to normal pricing plans at the start of 2016.

Markets have been waiting for Sprint to ignite a price war and Monday’s announcement was it. Claure also made clear this was Sprint’s first, but not last, move to win customers.

The Overland Park-based company did not address its unlimited data offerings, which have been available at additional cost for each device that gets unlimited data. A spokeswoman said to stay tuned on the unlimited front, that Monday’s announcements addressed family plans.

Consumers have been barraged by Framily ads featuring the talking hamster dad, a girl with animated blue birds flitting around her head and other eclectic members of the discount group.

Sprint made it difficult to add existing customers to your Framily group, forcing customers to find non-Sprint subscribers to earn discounts. Sprint posted their Framily account numbers on eBay, Facebook and elsewhere to attract new members.

“It’s quite the confusing plan to sign up and more confusing when people drop off,” said Roger Entner, founder of Recon Analytics.

Entner said losing a Framily member ends the discount that his added line had brought to all the members on the account. And Sprint’s network disruptions from the extensive upgrade effort had sent some customers packing.

“If Sprint doesn’t work for them, your price goes up. So you get penalized for Sprint’s network,” Entner said.

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