media logos

Wal-Mart to sell Straight Talk, not that big a deal

Something strange was afoot. My RSS reader, filled to the brim with cell phone blogs and various keyword alerts, showed an inordinately high number of unread items. In a normal day I’ll see about 60 unread items between when I empty my reader at 9 a.m. and when I check it again at 2. Yesterday that number was closer to 100. It turns out that there was some pretty big news in prepaid: Wal-Mart will begin distributing Straight Talk cell phone service. I’m not quite sure I understand the overhype, but it is news nonetheless.

In our Straight Talk user reviews, I’ve seen a number of people mention purchasing the device at Wal-Mart. But if the deal was announced today, how can that be? Apparently those users are from Dallas or Atlanta, where Wal-Mart stores featured a trial run of Straight Talk. The experiment has gone well enough for Wal-Mart to expand it nationwide. This was inevitable; cost-conscious consumers are naturally attracted to Straight Talk’s low-cost, high-capacity service plans. Look for Straight Talk at Wal-Mart locations nationwide starting October 18.

Perhaps the most affected carrier in this is Cricket wireless, which recently announced a big box retail strategy. Cricket currently has distribution deals with Target and Best Buy, and they have said that more announcements will come. After yesterday’s Straight Talk announcement, Lund commented that the company planned to announce a distribution deal with Wal-Mart within a week. It sounds odd to hear an official spokesperson — Lund is the Director of Corporate Communications — announce a deal unofficially, but it seemed of necessity in this situation.

Still, Cricket could find trouble. Straight Talk operates on the Verizon Wireless network, which provides nationwide coverage. Cricket, while it does have roaming deals, only provides regional coverage. The advantage the hold is that their $40 plan is about as comprehensive as Straight Talk’s $45 plan. Cricket also has a $45 PAYGo plan that includes unlimited Web.

If you plan to buy either a Cricket or a Straight Talk phone from Wal-Mart, remember that Wal-Mart will only sell you two prepaid phones. Sad, but true in most instances.