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Wal-Mart's prepaid wireless goes nationwide

No-contract Straight Talk offers limited- and unlimited-access plans.

By Karen Datko Oct 14, 2009 3:59PM

Retail giant Wal-Mart has entered the prepaid cell-phone wars in a big way.

 

It has announced that its 3,200 U.S. stores will offer an unlimited voice, text and mobile Web plan for $45 a month, undercutting not only big providers such as Sprint and T-Mobile but upstart discounters like MetroPCS and Leap Wireless. While the $45 plan offers unlimited access to everything, a $30 plan includes 1,000 minutes, 1,000 text messages and 30 megabytes of Web access.  And 411 calls are free in both plans.

 

The Straight Talk service launches Oct. 18. Wal-Mart says a 1,000-minute plan from other carriers typically costs about $78 a month.

As you might have guessed, Wal-Mart’s low-cost plans won’t work with your fancy smart phone. Handsets are available at Wal-Mart, ranging from a $40 LG flip-phone to a $100 Samsung keyboard phone.

 

The rules are pretty much identical to those for any other prepaid plan: Customers can keep their existing mobile number or get a new one, and can add minutes at any time. But if service lapses, the customer loses the number.

 

The service is available nationwide, with a few exceptions outlined on the company's coverage area map.

 

Straight Talk was until recently offered in 234 stores as a limited trial service developed by TracFone Wireless. The nationwide service will run on the Verizon Wireless network.

 

Industry analysts expect Wal-Mart’s move to lead to price cuts, especially on the lower end of the market.

 

The world's largest retailer in recent years has moved beyond the normal realm of discount department stores. Its $4-a-month prescriptions claimed a high-profile stake in the pharmacy segment, spurring other stores to offer similar plans. It also announced this week it is launching an online store for personal-care items to compete with Drugstore.com and Amazon.com.

 

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