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With Sprint's new plan, friends and neighbors can be your 'framily'

Subscribers can get anyone to join up, and everyone will pay less per month

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Sprint will let friends, neighbors or any other group join up for savings on monthly bills under the Sprint Framily Plan, announced on Tuesday.

Family plans can save money in traditional households of three or more people, but 60 percent of all U.S. households have only one or two people, and those are the fastest-growing kind, Sprint CEO Dan Hesse told the Citi 2014 Internet, Media & Telecommunications Conference taking place near International CES in Las Vegas. The Framily Plan, available starting Jan. 10, is designed for them.

Members of a "framily" won't share a pool of data or receive a single bill, but they will pay less per month. The first subscriber will pay US$55 per month for unlimited talk and text and 1GB of data, and every time another person joins, each member's bill will go down by $5 per month. As many as 10 people can join a framily, but the maximum savings is $30 per month, bringing each member's monthly bill to $25 plus taxes and surcharges. Then, any member who wants unlimited data instead of the 1GB limit can pay an extra $20 per month.

Buying a phone is separate from the Framily Plan. Subscribers have to either bring their own device or buy it from Sprint in installments. Those who upgrade to unlimited data will also be entitled to an annual upgrade to a new device.

Sprint's new offer comes amid an upheaval in the ways U.S. consumers can buy devices and pay for mobile service. Unlike traditional family plans, the Framily Plan could bring a wide range of friends and acquaintances of Sprint subscribers into the company's fold. Following its acquisition last year by Softbank, Sprint is still much smaller than AT&T or Verizon Wireless and looking to make up for subscribers lost during the shutdown of the former Nextel network last year.

Also on Tuesday, Hesse pushed the latest advances in Sprint's push for a faster network to differentiate itself. He announced that Sprint has rolled out its high-speed Spark network in six more markets, including Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio in Texas, as well as Fort Lauderdale, Florida. There also are three more devices coming that will be able to use the fast network: the LG Nexus 5 and G Flex handsets and the Netgear LTE Gateway 6100D fixed wireless router.

Also at the Citi conference, Hesse gave his take on some other mobile carrier offerings.

On buying handsets on an installment plan: "I think it is absolutely here to stay."

On programs that pay customers of a rival carrier to switch: "I don't think they'll be permanent fixtures. They're basically promotions that are run from time to time."

On Sprint's unlimited data plans: "I think unlimited will stay here as an option that Sprint will offer its customers for a very long period of time. ... I'm not predicting or committing that we'll always offer unlimited to new customers forever."

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com



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