ItsOn’s New Zact Service Is Rewriting The Book On Wireless Plans

Posted: May 14, 2013 in GT, Technology

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It seems like every other day an upstart wireless
service provider inks a wholesale deal with someone
like Sprint or T-Mobile and effectively sells access to
those big carrier networks under a different banner.
And every other day, I ignore most of them, because
they’re just so damned boring. Zact isn’t boring. In fact, Zact — an upstart service
provider created by Andreessen Horowitz-backed
ItsOn that uses Sprint’s network — has the best
approach to wireless plans I’ve seen in a long time. Consider this scenario: you’ve signed up with Zact
(no contracts here) and chosen a plan, say, 500
minutes, 1,000 text messages, and 1GB of data. That
plan’ll cost you just shy of $40, and once you’ve
signed up, you use the plan just as you would any
other. At the end of the month though, it becomes apparent
Zact’s approach flies in the face of how more
traditional carriers handle billing. While carriers like
AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and the like are happy to keep
quiet and accept your money for minutes, messages,
and data you haven’t even touched, Zact goes back and credits you the difference between what you’ve
paid for and what you’ve used. Yes, these people are
actually trying to build a business by giving your
money back to you. Now as neat as that is, that sort of no overage
approach isn’t exactly new — MVNOs like Ting have
been running with that model for over a year a now.
Zact manages to take things a bit farther than Ting
thanks to some interesting feature-centric plans for
people who don’t need gobs and gobs of data each month because they only need to do a few things.
Take Facebook for instance: Zact offers a $5/mo
feature that offers unlimited access to the social
network that bars users from using the data
connection for anything else. After all, some people
may never use their smartphone for anything else anyway, so why charge them for all the extra cruft?
Mixing and matching features is certainly more work
than what most carriers have us doing now, but I’d
much rather have the option at least. Users can also tweak those plans by way of some
deeply-integrated Zact software with a surprising level
of granularity at any point during the month, and those
changes go into effect immediately — no chatting
with customer service drones required. Those plans
are intrinsically shareable too so if you and four friends can scrape by on 200 minutes a month, well,
feel free. Getting close to your minute or message
limits? You’ll be notified while you’re gabbing on the
phone or when firing up the messaging app
respectively. Throw in some savvy, instant-on parental controls
(you can remotely disable apps on other devices on
the account if you’re an admin) and you’ve the
makings of a very promising service. The folks
Andreessen Horowitz and seem to agree, as they
collectively pumped some $15 million into Zact parent company ItsOn last October. Curiously, ItsOn’s ambitions extend beyond just
running its own MVNO (except they really don’t like it
when you call Zact the “m” word). CEO Greg Raleigh
told TechCrunch that the cloud services that make
those on-the-fly plan changes and suggestions
possible has garnered ItsOn attention from carriers around the globe, a few of which can be found right
here in the States. According to Raleigh, the vision
isn’t so much about giving all those carriers a run for
their money, it’s about getting them to adopt the
same sort of granular approach to plans. Ah, but there’s a catch (isn’t there always?). As a
Sprint wholesaler, Zact only has access to two
Android smartphones (well, three if you count a color
variant) right now, and either of them are terribly
eyecatching. Ting is a slightly more attractive option
right now if only because of the wider array of hardware available, but I’ll be keeping my eyes on
ItsOn and Zact — they’re definitely on to something
here.

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