In the US, prepaid cellphone service tends to be a like-it-or-leave-it proposition that rarely fits perfectly, especially for families. Virgin Mobile may have a smarter approach in store; it’s launching Custom, a prepaid family plan that lets you tailor usage to your liking. You can put as many as five people on plans that start at $7 each ($35 for unlimited talk and text) and scale up depending on individual needs. If Mom is a big fan of streaming music but rarely makes calls, she can pile on the data (or use a $5 Unlimited Music plan) and reduce her voice minutes; a chat-happy kid, meanwhile, can have gobs of messages but only minimal internet access. You can change the plans at any time from mobile apps, and built-in parental controls let you declare certain apps as off-limits during specified hours.
Custom will be available in Walmart stores on August 9th, although your device selection will be limited to some bottom-rung Android devices at first, including the ZTE Emblem ($80), LG Pulse ($100) and LG Unify ($130, shown here). You won’t have to put everyone on the plan to control it, however. As of September 1st, you’ll get a management app for Android and iOS that lets you change Custom plans whether or not you’re a Virgin customer yourself. As such, it could be handy for parents who want to stick to high-end devices and plans, yet keep their kids’ cellphone service on a tight budget.