Photo: AP

At a time when we’re all waiting with bated breath to find out if our four major wireless carrier choices will become three, Verizon is funding a new low-cost “competitor.” Visible is a startup that’s offering unlimited data, minutes, and messaging for just $40 per month. Of course, it has some caveats.

Visible, despite its name, has been flying under the radar since the beginning of the year. It’s essentially an app-based mobile virtual network operator that only offers one plan, and it doesn’t support eSIMs. The company is making a big deal out of everything being handled in the app, but the infrastructure piggybacks off of Verizon’s 4G LTE network. (Update: A spokesperson for Visible told Gizmodo that it is not an MVNO, it is instead a new kind of network provider, combining Verizon’s 4G LTE cell tower coverage with cloud-based infrastructure and systems. We asked what that means and will update this post when we find out.)

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At the moment, the contract-free service is only available in the iOS app store and is invite-only. It doesn’t seem to be very stingy with the invites, though, and Gizmodo was able to get one shortly after making a request. Once you sign up, a physical SIM card is sent to you in the mail, and you pay for the service through PayPal or Venmo. (Payment is another example where your two options are owned by the same company.)

According to TechCrunch, the company was founded by former Verizon employees, including CEO Miguel Quiroga, who was previously Verizon’s head of digital. It’s unknown how much money Verizon has put into the company. When asked directly if Verizon owns Visible, the company told The Denver Post, “Yes, Visible is funded by Verizon.” Gizmodo asked the company about the telecom giant’s funding and whether there are other investors but did not receive an immediate reply.

The biggest difference between Visible and Verizon’s $40 unlimited plan is that you’re capped at a speed of 5 Mbps on the new service. With Verizon, you’re promised speeds between 5 and 12 Mbps and “peak download speeds approaching 50 Mbps.” Verizon’s plan does reserve the right to “temporarily slow” your connection in “times of congestion.” Like Verizon’s bargain plan, “most” video streaming on Visible will be delivered at the low-resolution of 480p. Visible’s primary selling point seems to be an absence of fees and contracts.

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As expected, Visible’s privacy policy gives the company incredible freedom to do what it likes with your personal data. “We collect information when you visit our websites, use our apps, contact us, and when you subscribe to and use our wireless service,” the policy reads. And Visible reserves the right to sell that data to third parties as well as use it to market to you, with some opt-out options available for those that bother to use them. We asked Visible if it already has deals in place for sharing data with third parties.

Do what you will with all this information, but know that this isn’t an entirely new entrant into the (quickly consolidating) cell phone game, but a big telecom-backed service offering the illusion of choice.

[TechCrunch, Visible, Denver Post]

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