Editors update 12 April 2012: Virgin Mobile opened up its web site in Chile this week. That same day I ordered a SIM card from the web site. It the came in the mail two days later efficiently delivered. No need to stand in line at this shop. The only question I had was how to sign up for the monthly plan–there are no contracts here–which Virgin Mobile calls “antiplans”. On their web site a helpful person steered me through the process in a chat session.
The plans here are cleared geared towards younger people the antiplans give ample internet access and not a large number of minutes although the number of minutes offered seems to be about the same as what Entel, Claro, and Movistar off. But what kid would care about that when all they want is internet? For my son I soliciated a plan of 200 minutes talk, 100 text messages, and 1 GB data services for 25,000 CLP which will be charged to my credit card each month.
To use the sim card in a phone you already have to have to set the access point name to imovil.virginimobile.cl. I did that then ran android app SpeedTest and it shows a download speed of 2.07 mbps and an upload speed of 0.43 mbps. This is fast enough for video and Skype and the same for Entel and Movistar phones I have.
For many Chileans cell phone service is expensive. Essentially there are two types of plans: pay-as-you-go and contract. Both are expensive, and both cause Chileans to speak quickly and for short-periods of time. A typical pay-as-you-go plan costs customers upwards of 100 pesos per minute (roughly 25 cents) and 50 pesos for every text message. Compared to telecommunication companies in the USA–like Sprint’s prepaid BoostMobile service–that offer unlimited voice, texting, and data for only $50 per month–prices in Chile indeed seem very high.
Carlos Rucköldt has a typical contract plan. He pays the telecommunication company Entel 60.000 pesos ($120) per month for a limited minute family plan that does not include texting nor data. Every minute over the allotted amount costs upward of 100 pesos (roughly 25 cents). These prices cause Chileans like Rucköldt to use their cell phones sparingly. He says, “Generally, you have to speak little. We pay a set amount per month, and if we go over they charge us like crazy. It’s very expensive.”
These high prices have caused many Chileans to communicate by pinchas (pokes), a method by which a person without minutes calls another, and quickly hangs up after they pick up the phone.
Hope may be on the way as the British firm Virgin Mobile enters the Chilean market in March. The Virgin company based in the UK, is the same company as Virgin Airlines owned by famous chairman and CEO billionaire Richard Branson. Another one of Branson’s companies, Virgin Galatica, will soon start offering space flights into low-earth orbit for $200,000 USD.
Virgin Mobile has stated that it hopes to become the leading mobile network virtual operators (MVNO) in Latin America. As a MVNO, Virgin Mobile will provide only telecommunications service to customers, relying on other companies networks. In Chile, Virgin and Movistar agreed that Virgin Mobile will use Movistar’s extensive infrastructure to provide services to customers. Virgin Mobile Latin America (VMLA) Chairman Mike Wallace said of the deal, “We’re also looking forward to working with Movistar, one of Chile’s top mobile network operators. They were quick to understand the potential of partnering with VMLA as a way to serve existing and untapped consumers in creative ways – just as Virgin Mobile UK, the US, and other countries worldwide.”
Virgin Mobile enters a Chilean market that has been dominated by several companies: Entel, Movistar, and Claro. Recently passed legislation now allows phone number portability, meaning users can keep their cell phone but change their provider. The government has said this will increase competition and lower prices. The addition of Virgin Mobile’s to the market will likely do the same.
Just how Virgin Mobile will fit into the market is yet to be seen, but according to Daniela Santis, spokesman for Virgini Mobile Chile, the company hopes to claim a share of the market by targeting, “Youth and young-at-heart consumers, positioning itself as a fresh alternative to existing wireless providers through simple, transparent pricing, products and services tailored to its target segments, and world-class customer service.”
While Virgin Mobile will not launch in Chile until March they have all ready begun an extensive ad campaign directed at frustrated cell phone customers. In one commercial that has been banned from several television channels, viewers see a pigeon’s poop land on the statue of a mustachioed man. As the camera zooms in on the statue, the statue speaks and says, “Pronto, te van a dejar de cagar” meaning “Soon, they will stop crapping on you”. For Chileans looking to stop “pinchando” and start using their phones for longer periods of time, one hopes Virgin Mobile is telling the truth.