Ina Fried

Recent Posts by Ina Fried

Meet Zact, a Shareable Cellphone Service That Changes on the Fly

The major carriers have taken baby steps in giving users more control over their data plan. With AT&T and Verizon, for example, users can share a pool of gigabytes across multiple devices.

But imagine a world where you can buy a few hours worth of streaming audio or add unlimited email but only a modest amount of data for other purposes.

That’s just the kind of world being created by a Marc Andreessen-backed startup called ItsOn. The company’s main business plan is selling systems to carriers that would let them offer these kinds of services.

However, to get that business off the ground, ItsOn felt like it needed to create its own service. So on Monday the company is announcing Zact, a consumer cellphone service designed to be cheaper and far more flexible than others on the market.

“We need to do a service and become our own customers to show what’s possible,” ItsOn CEO Greg Raleigh said in an interview.

Whether you want to give your kid more texts, boost your data plan or drop your ex from the account, all these kinds of options can be changed from the phone and on the fly. Want to buy just an hour of video or a month’s worth of email? You can do that, as well.

And if the plan you pick is more than you need, Zact will refund the difference between that plan and the least expensive one that would have matched your usage.

“There’s a way to give people exactly what they want and make a profit,” Raleigh said. Although Zact customers have to pay full price for their phone, they can still save thousands over a two-year contract, Raleigh said.

Another feature is controls that let parents choose not only how much voice, data and texts to give their kids, but also when they can use their device and which apps can run at which times.

Preorders for the service will start on Monday, with devices shipping to consumers by June. Though ItsOn created the service that enabled the flexibility, the underlying network for Zact is Sprint, with ItsOn buying capacity on a wholesale basis.

One big downside initially is Zact’s very limited device portfolio — and that’s putting it mildly. Zact initially only works with two Android phones, the $199 LG Optimus Elite and the $399 LG Viper 4G LTE.

Over time, Zact plans to add phone models as well as tablets and other devices.

But the goal is also to show carriers what’s possible using its service, so that eventually ItsOn can be used by the major operators. And the message is resonating, Raleigh said.

“You see it in their eyes,” he said. “They say, ‘We can be popular.'”

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Nobody was excited about paying top dollar for a movie about WikiLeaks. A film about the origins of would have done better.

— Gitesh Pandya of comments on the dreadful opening weekend box office numbers for “The Fifth Estate.”