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Exploring Ultra Cheap Wireless Services

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The other day, I received an email from a public relations person for Scratch Wireless. Staying on top of the mobile carriers has been a hobby of mine since 2004 when I worked for location-based service start-up. However, I've never heard of Scratch, so I was intrigued.

Turns out their service is much like Republic Wireless which I wrote about before. Both companies have very cheap plans. They achieve the low price point by cutting some corners on service. For example, they both route calls through wi-fi when it is available. To do this they require phones with specialized software. You can't just bring any phone to the network.

In addition, each service piggybacks on Sprint's network. I had been a more-or-less happy Sprint customer for more than 10 years, but they don't have great LTE coverage. If you are coming from AT&T or Verizon, you aren't going to get the fastest data and the best coverage.

The public relations person explained how Scratch's pricing works. You can purchase a daily pass for $1.99 or a monthly one for $14.99. The daily pass comes with 25MB of data, while the monthly comes with 200MB.

I think it is a raw deal.

I explained that I can't figure out their target audience. I don't know who buys cell phone service for a day. Am I going to tell my friends that they can only call me on Mondays and Wednesdays, because that's when I have service? Of course not. If you need service 8 days of the month, you might as well pick up the monthly pass.

Paying less than $15 a month is a good deal, but the 200MB data limit is very low. For comparison sake, my $40 Straight Talk plan has 3GB, 15 times more, before it slows you down. I don't use my data plan much at all, but I still top 700MB a month. I feel like I could blow through 200MB of data in 3 short YouTube videos.

So far Scratch seems like the kind of company that might be useful for my mother who mostly just makes calls if there's an emergency with her cell phone.

However, there was one last thing that I didn't like about Scratch. The service requires the use of a Photon Q Android phone. That phone was a slightly above average when came out in August of 2012. Today it is a dinosaur and it's the only option. Quite honestly, I wouldn't want to subject my mother to that phone experience even some of the time.

Republic Wireless has a plan a pair of plans that surround Scratch's price point and features. Republic's $10 plan doesn't include any data. The $25 plan has unlimited data at slower 3G speeds. However, it does have the option to buy very new phones from Motorola... and they are cheaper than Scratch's Photon Q.

Readers of my Best Cell Phone/Plan Savings Today article have recommended another low-cost wireless service called Ting. Ting's model is that you pay for what you use. Don't talk on the phone this month? Fine, pay nothing for those zero minutes. Didn't send a text? Same. You can see Ting's pricing here.

It's a very intriguing idea and one that I thought I'd love. When priced out what Ting would cost me, the price added up quickly... and I rarely use my cell phone. For example, if I were to use 120 minutes (just 4 minutes a day), 10 text messages, and my typical 700MB of data, it would be $37 for the month. For $6 more, I currently get unlimited of all three on Straight Talk. I think Ting's pricing gets better if you have more people and more devices sharing those buckets of minutes, data, and texts.

I can imagine being put on hold on a customer service call for 20 minutes and thinking, "This is going to start costing me money." It's really nice piece of mind to have unlimited minutes in that situation.

Lastly, there's FreedomPop and it's phone service. I think it's one of the best values around. For $20/mo. you get unlimited talk, text, and data (slows to 3G after the first GB). For $79.99 a YEAR (not month), you get unlimited talk, text, and 500GB of data. The catch is that it uses Sprint's data network for nearly everything, even calls. If Sprint's coverage isn't great in your area, you are out of luck. When I put in my address the website said I wouldn't get coverage, but asked if I wanted to buy it anyway.

That's a rather large "downside", but maybe it works for you.

At the end of the day, I feel there's too many trade-offs with each of companies. I'll stick with Straight Talk which gives me unlimited everything for $43 a month. It gives me everything that the major carriers have, for a much lower price.

There's a lot more out there than the big four (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint). I encourage you to explore these other options to see if they are right for you. Saving a few dozen dollars each month really adds up over the years.

Posted on June 11, 2014.

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One Response to “Exploring Ultra Cheap Wireless Services”

  1. […] Exploring Ultra Cheap Wireless Services There’s a lot more out there than the big four (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint). I encourage you to explore these other options to see if they are right for you. […]

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