Scratch Wireless, T-Mobile, Republic shake up the market for cheap phone service


The market for truly free cellphone service is narrowing with one of the larger players now bowing out.

Scratch Wireless changes its business model

Scratch Wireless has just rescinded its offer of free texting all the time on the Sprint cellular network, and then free data and voice minutes when you’re near Wi-Fi.

Apparently too many people were sticking to this freemium offer and not buying enough add-on services to make this a truly profitable venture for the company.

I liked Scratch Wireless in particular for tweens and teens to have their first phone. The reality is kids under age 19 don’t really talk on the phone. So if you had a kid who was dying for a smartphone and you didn’t want to deal with the bill every month, then this was a great option. But no more!

Read more: Sprint’s new $20 ‘unlimited’ plan is really just 1GB of data

T-Mobile giveth as Scratch Wireless taketh away…

T-Mobile is now offering a special for family plans. It’s $120 for 4 lines, each with unlimited talk/text and 10 GBs of data. (To put that in context the average person uses between 1 GB and 2 GB monthly.)

So while not unlimited, this T-Mobile deal comes enticingly close. It does require a minimum of 4 lines, but you can add additional people at $30 a month. And if you have someone like a teen who is a real data hog, you can take that 10 GB to 20 GB for just $10 extra per month on that line.

Read more: Facebook was draining your iPhone, but a fix is on the way

Who else is left for cheap cellphone service?

Republic Wireless is my longstanding favorite. It’s the best deal in America. All plans going forward will be $10 a month for talk and text and you’ll pay $7.50 for a base of 500 MB data. So that’s $17.50.

But here’s the thing: Republic is designed to be used on Wi-Fi. So whatever data of the 500 MB you don’t use at the end of a billing period, you will receive a refund. In their beta test of this model, the average user paid $14 and change per month. That’s a great price!


As for the phone, you buy a very good Android called the Moto X for $299 or a decent phone called the Moto G for $149. Then you use the phone like any other, except most of the time you are on Wi-Fi instead of cellular. Thus the savings. (See my review of Republic Wireless.)

Looking for some money-saving advice? See our Money section.

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