Ina Fried

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Meet the 22-Year Old College Student Who Hopes to Shake Up the Cellphone Business

John Mardini still has another year left before he gets his college degree, but he’s already onto his third business, and this time he’s aiming big.

Mardini, with the backing of family and friends, is launching Voyager Mobile, a start-up that aims to bring cut-rate cellphone services to the masses. The company is launching with two rate plans with service via Sprint’s network. The company will charge $19 a month for unlimited talk and text, and $39 (plus tax) for unlimited talk, text and Web.

The 22-year-old Mardini, who is entering his senior year at New York University, told AllThingsD that he decided to get into the cellphone business after noticing how high his bill had gotten.

“It was just one of those things,” he said in a telephone interview. “I pay so much for my cellphone. I was thinking there has to be a better way to make it cheaper for everyone.”

Despite the low prices, Mardini said he believes he can offer a range of phones, including some fairly high-end Android devices, such as Samsung’s Galaxy S II, also known as the Epic 4G Touch. The company will also sell tablets, data cards and hotspots, though the rate plans for those have yet to be finalized.

Voyager is the latest in a growing number of companies looking to resell service on another carrier’s network.

Among the most high-profile such start-ups are Republic Wireless and FreedomPop.

The notion of a virtual mobile network operator has been around for a while. Some have persisted, while others — like ESPN Mobile and Disney Mobile — have faded. In recent months, though, a new wave of companies have cropped up, promising to bring new business models and economics to the wireless business.

Voyager Mobile has said it will announce details of its plans on Tuesday at 6 am ET. Its Web site promises unlimited service starting at $19 a month, but offers only the barest of details, along with a countdown clock. However, details started trickling out on Monday, including its rate plans and phone lineup, which were reported by several sites, including PhoneScoop and CNET.

Though still in college, Mardini has been involved with several other companies, with the first one tracing its roots back to some DJ gear that he got at age 9. The record business evolved into a local tech firm, and eventually led Mardini to launch Munifi Networks, a broader IT services company.

Mardini said he is using proceeds from those and other family businesses to launch Voyager, which is starting out with just seven employees, and is based in his hometown of Knoxville, Tenn. Given its tiny workforce, Voyager is relying on outsourcing to handle many aspects of its operations. Its small size is a key to the low prices, Mardini insists.

“In the end, we are able to offer the best price to our customers,” he said.

Update: Well, it looks like Voyager had some problems getting off the ground.

“During its Tuesday, May 15 launch, Voyager Mobile experienced a malicious network attack to its primary website: voyagermobile.com,” the company said on its Web site. “Due to the network outage, Voyager Mobile is postponing its launch to a time and date in the very near future.”

The company added that it won’t be derailed.

“Our goal of low cost wireless service for all will not be undermined and we strive to continue the voyage for a better wireless world,” it said.

On Twitter, Mardini said that the Web site was hit with a packet attack, and that the company is working to restore service.

Also, we weren’t the only ones to track down Mardini ahead of the launch. Fred Fishkin had an interview that ran before ours.


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When AllThingsD began, we told readers we were aiming to present a fusion of new-media timeliness and energy with old-media standards for quality and ethics. And we hope you agree that we’ve done that.

— Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg, in their farewell D post