Scratch Wireless, a new Sprint MVNO, launched today calling itself "the world's first free mobile service for text, data and voice". It's not really the first however, FreedomPop launched its free service two weeks ago. But the average user could care less who was first, the real question is how does it work and is it really free?
Like Republic Wireless, FreedomPop and TextNow, Scratch is a "WiFi-First" service. Scratch phones run software that routes calls, texts and data over WiFi whenever possible. When there's no WiFi, Scratch uses the Sprint network. Calls and texts over WiFi are free as you would expect.
Where Scratch gets interesting is when you are out of WiFi range. Scratch is using the freemium model. The free part is texting, Scratch makes texting free whether users are on a Wi-Fi network or not. To use voice or data away from WiFi you need to buy a Cellular Pass. There are 24 Hour and 30 Day Passes priced as follows:
- $1.49 - 30 minutes of calling good for 24 hours
- $1.49 - 25 MBs of data good for 24 hours
- $14.99 - 250 minutes of calling good for 30 days
- $14.99 - 200 MBs of data good for 30 days
To use Scratch you need a Scratch phone. Currently there's only one phone available, the Motorola Photon Q for $269. The Photon Q is an Android QWERTY slider. It's LTE capable, runs Android 4.1 JellyBean and has a 4.3" 540x960 qHD screen, 1.5 Ghz dual core processor, 1GB RAM, 8MP main camera and 1.3 MP front facing camera for video chat.
Scratch is facing some stiff competition in the WiFi-First space. There's FreedomPop with it's freemium service that offers 500MB, 200 minutes and 500 texts per month for free, TextNow with unlimited texts, 500 MB and 750 voice minutes for $18.99 and Republic Wireless with unlimited talk, text and data starting at $19 (plus taxes).
Scratch's service seems ideal for heavy texters who are only occasional voice and data users and/or are around WiFi most of the time. But to make money Scratch needs to sell Cellular Passes. Too many freeloading text-only customers could doom that business model. But the relatively expensive phone should help to discourage customers who are a little too value oriented.
Scratch launched today on an "invitation only" basis, with general availability coming "in time for the holiday season". You can request an invite at scratchwireless.com/coming-soon.php.
Sources: Scratch Wireless via FierceWireless