Walmart, the world's largest retailer, is joining the telecom game. Starting today, the Walmart Family Mobile plan launches as a contract-optional service, carried on T-Mobile's USA network.
Interestingly, Walmart's plan costs less than T-Mobile's—$45 per month for unlimited calling and texting, and $25 for each additional line. Yet T-Mobile has encouraged the partnership. T-Mobile CEO Jim Alling called Walmart's branding a "tremendous endorsement." How regular T-Mobile customers will feel about being undercut like this remains to be seen.
This isn't the first time Walmart has teamed with mobile carriers. The company runs a wireless service with Verizon and is developing another with Sprint. Those plans are prepaid, however. The Family Mobile plans are postpaid, meaning the bill is received at the end of the month rather than at the beginning.
What's more, Walmart's new service avoids a lot of the nonsense we've come to associate with cell phone contracts. Theirs does not require termination fees, require contacts or even credit checks. (Their cell phones are significantly more expensive without a contract, however.)
This T-Mobile partnership is part of Walmart's goal to shed the stigma of prepaid plans. According to Greg Hall, the company's VP of merchandising, consumers often equate prepaid services with cheap cell phones and poor network quality.
By combining the benefits of both prepaid and postpaid plans, and partnering with a strong network carrier, Walmart hopes to reinvent the mobile market. Given their hundreds of millions of customers, they may well succeed. And for those of us struggling with our cell phone contracts, that may be no bad thing.