Today, Wal-Mart announced that it is becoming a wireless provider. The retail giant is offering an “unlimited” no-contact cell phone service for $45, and a metered plan for $30.
While there is no contract, customers must purchase an eligible phone. Wal-Mart is offering an entry-level LG 220 flip phone at $39.98, an LG Slider 290 at $79.98, and the Samsung 451 QWERTY keyboard phone at $99.88. Minutes may be added to phones at its stores or via the Web.
As a technophile, it’s tempting for me to point out the short comings of those devices. There are only a few stock applications available, and unlimited data on a flip phone does not translate to the same experience that I have surfing the Web on my iPhone. But that does not matter, because the people who would buy these phones wouldn’t care.
Last year, my family bought my 90-year-old grandfather a pre-paid cell phone from Best Buy. I’m not sure what brand it is, but it was one of a few options that I usually see at mall kiosks. The Wal-Mart brand is much stronger than any of those, and we probably would have bought a phone from it if we had the option.
It’s also an economical choice for families with shoestring budgets. Leading wireless companies provide family plans, but they aren’t cheap, and usually require a commitment. AT&T even charges parents that want to place restrictions on their kids’ usage. A pre-paid plan doesn’t require families to purchase much more than what they want to pay for.
Whether Wal-Mart becomes a viable wireless company or not is up to the market, but its track record is pretty solid. Wal-Mart rapidly became the largest grocery store in the United States after all, and it has more locations than other pre-paid wireless companies. Im guessing it’ll do well.