Walmart's recent decision to sell its own Walmart-brand wireless phone service (alongside household goods and bargain-priced food) is perhaps the most telling sign that cellular plans are fast becoming a commodity, with no-contract plans helping more people get in on the wireless fun. Walmart's new service, Walmart Family Mobile (which will run on the T-Mobile network), is actually a hybrid plan: Customers will pay at the end of each month, but won't have to sign a contract or make a multiyear commitment.
While Walmart had previously offered traditional prepaid plans under the Commoncents (through Sprint) and Straight Talk (through Verizon) brands, it will market the Walmart Family Mobile brand in conjunction with the Android-based Motorola Cliq XT and other smartphones, targeting relatively Web-savvy customers.
New Networks, No Data Caps
Sprint--which controls several prepaid brands, including Boost and Virgin Mobile USA--purposely offers different devices and plan configurations (including unlimited data) to attract different customer segments. Virgin Mobile, which counts data-consuming youth among its core constituencies, now offers prepaid plans for data-only devices such as the MiFi mobile 3G/Wi-Fi router, as well as for a USB 3G modem.
AT&T's September 20 announcement of prepaid wireless data plans for certain devices--the first such offering from Ma Bell--along with new prepaid data options for smartphones from Verizon seem to confirm that prepaid wireless will account for a larger part of the cellular landscape in the future, especially as consumers turn to wireless for their everyday broadband data needs.
The DataConnect Pass prepaid data plans announced last week by AT&T apply exclusively to three approved netbook/laptop devices--two from Acer and one from Dell (prices start at $500). A 100MB day pass costs $15, a 300MB week pass is $30, and a 1GB month plan runs $50.
These options are comparable to those in the prepaid data/device plans that Verizon introduced late last year. Verizon's prepaid data plans require a $130 USB modem for network access.
Prepaid, Meet 4G