US wireless operator Sprint has confirmed that it is shutting down its underperforming Virgin Mobile USA pre-paid sub-brand – almost 18 years after its initial launch. The Virgin Mobile website explains: ‘Please note the Virgin Mobile USA service will be discontinued. We are happy to announce that existing VMU accounts will be transferring to our sister brand Boost Mobile beginning in February.’ In most instances subscribers will be transferred to ‘a comparable or better’ Boost Mobile service plan at no extra cost. The untimely shutdown represents an ignominious end for Virgin – which co-owner Sprint paid USD483 million to acquire outright in 2009.
The development represents an intriguing sub-plot to the ongoing attempt by Sprint to seal a merger with larger rival T-Mobile US. In July 2019 US satellite TV giant DISH Network agreed to acquire Boost, Virgin and Sprint-branded pre-paid customers – alongside Sprint’s portfolio of nationwide 800MHz spectrum – in a deal valued at USD5 billion. Indeed, this deal helped to persuade the Department of Justice (DoJ) to sign off on the yet-to-conclude merger. For its part, DISH appears unconcerned at the prospect of Virgin’s disappearance, with a spokesperson telling Fierce Wireless: ‘DISH plans to aggressively grow the Boost business from day one. Upon close, we are eager to provide existing and future Boost consumers with our award-winning customer service.’
According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, as of 30 September 2019 Sprint’s pre-paid business unit – comprising Virgin, Boost and some Sprint-branded customers – accounted for a combined user base of 8.440 million, down from 9.019 million one year earlier and 11.705 million back in September 2015.