Cheap calls, but expensive data: Wal-Mart launches wireless plan

Wal-Mart’s launching its own wireless plan aimed at its core market of low- to middle-income families.

Running on T-Mobile’s network, the Family Mobile service offers unlimited talk and text for $45 per month for the first user, with additional lines costing $25. It’s cheaper than AT&T and Verizon, and even undercuts T-Mobile’s own charges for a similar service.

Family Mobile will be sold in-store with a choice of phones from Samsung, Motorola and Nokia costing from $35. Customers can upgrade their phone any time.

“This plan provides families with the flexibility to connect with each other without surprise charges, and with the added benefit of one of the most trusted wireless network providers,” said Greg Hall, vice president of merchandising.

Wal-Mart already offers a service known as Straight Talk, in conjunction with Verizon, as well as Common Cents with Sprint Nextel. Straight talk also costs $45 per month, but doesn’t allow for extra lines.

“Walmart is known for great value, and we’re pleased to offer our robust network of nationwide coverage for Walmart Family Mobile,” said Jim Alling, COO of T-Mobile USA.

“This new service is an innovative approach, offering post-paid customers a low-cost alternative for unlimited voice, messaging, web and inexpensive international calling.”

Data services, however, aren’t quite so cheap.

Activated accounts come with a free preloaded 100MB WebPak internet access package for every line of service. The WebPak is shared among all lines on an account, and unused data can be carried over from month to month indefinitely.

But extra charges for data use and international calls have to be paid in advance by buying additional WebPak refill cards. And this costs $40 per gigabyte – way more expensive than some of the competition.