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Virgin Joins $49.99 Unlimited Club

Warren, N.J. — Virgin Mobile will join a growing number of prepaid cellular providers in offering an unlimited-usage plan for $49.99.

Virgin’s plan, available April 15, allows for unlimited voice calling without roaming changes from anywhere in the U.S. On Jan. 22, Sprint subsidiary Boost Mobile launched an iDEN-network $49.99 plan, which includes unlimited SMS and MMS and push-to-talk service. The Virgin and Boost footprints cover 280 million and 274 million people, respectively.

Virgin also plans an April launch of a separate unlimited-messaging plan at $19.99. The company’s first unlimited-message plan will include SMS, MMS, IM and email. Another new text plan offers 1,000 messages for just $14.99

Virgin, an MVNO that resells Sprint airtime, attributed the reduction to $49.99 from $79.99 to new network rates obtained from Sprint.

Leap Wireless offers unlimited-use Cricket-branded prepaid plans from $30 to $60, but its footprint is smaller, and its $30 to $45 plans include calling only from within a home calling area. The $50 plan adds roaming into Premium Extended Coverage markets, unlimited SMS and MMS messaging, and unlimited Web browsing. By the end of 2009, the carrier’s network will expand to cover almost 100 million people, with its premium extended coverage areas adding another 100 million, the company said.

In another announcement, Virgin launched a “pink slip protection” program that waives up to three months of charges is a subscriber becomes unemployed. The protection applies to subscribers who pay for monthly plans, not on a pay-as-you-go basis. Protection also applies to subscribers of the new text programs.