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Wal-Mart To Offer Its Own Wireless Plan

September 14, 2010

Wal-Mart announced Monday that it plans to bring its first cell phone plan to the market that will use the chain’s own branding, demonstrating its continuing power in getting special deals from wireless carriers.

Wal-Mart Family Mobile service will run on T-Mobile USA’s network with unlimited calling and texting for $45 a month for the first line and $25 for each additional line in the family. The service will be offered starting next week in most of its stores in the United States.

Wal-Mart has been the exclusive seller of Verizon Wireless’s Straight Talk prepaid service since last year. The retail giant is also trying out another service from Sprint Nextel called Common Cents, which is also a prepaid plan.

The Wal-Mart Family Mobile service will be a “postpaid” service like most conventional contract plans, so the bill would be paid at the end of the month. But in other ways it works much the same as prepaid service, and it won’t come with a contract requirement, early termination fees or credit checks for new buyers.

Wal-mart’s vice president of merchandising in the US, Greg Hall, said there’s a perception among customers that prepaid service doesn’t offer access to the best phones or the best network quality. He said that offering the postpaid service is a way to avoid that.

Wal-Mart plans to sell five phones, beginning Monday. The high-end choice will be a smartphone Motorola Cliq XT, which will cost $249. The phone costs $329 from T-Mobile without a contract. The phone is free, however, with a two-year contract (the monthly fee is higher than the no-contract option). The cheapest device will be a Nokia phone for $35.

While there is no contract on the Wal-Mart Family Mobile service, the phones will be “locked” to the service, so they won’t be useable on another network.

There will also be a prepaid component to the service: extra charges for data use and international calls will come from a prepaid account, pooled for the whole family. For instance, one gigabyte of data usage will cost $40. Although the data usage fee may cost more than what others charge, such as AT&T’s $25 per month data usage fee, the Wal-Mart Family Mobile data allowance can be carried over month to month.

Shares of Wal-Mart increased 37 cents — or 0.7 percent — to $52.34 in midday trading Monday.

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