Another free service, which also launched this month, takes a different approach: Everything is free as long as you're using somebody else's free Wi-Fi. But step outside a free Wi-Fi zone and Scratch Wireless' $269 Motorola Photon Q smartphone will switch to pre-paid cellular service.
Daily plans start at $1.99 for either 25 MB or 25 voice minutes. Monthly plans are $14.99 for 200 MB or 250 minutes. Hit the limit within 30 days and you can just add another $14.99 plan. At least all texting is free regardless if you're using Wi-Fi or cellular service.
The Cambridge, Mass., company recently raised $5 million from backers, including CommonAngels. Right now, you can only join Scratch by invitation but the company said it expects the service to be more widely open to the public by the end of the year.
Relying on somebody else's free Wi-Fi to build your mobile business isn't entirely new.
, in Raleigh, N.C., has been doing it since 2011. But it's not free. The standard plan is $19 a month for membership. And you have to buy a smartphone from Republic, like a brand new Motorola DEFY XT smartphone for $99. But since the company has been around longer, Republic studied how people used its service. It rejiggered the standard plan because, it said, some users "could pay less." Beginning in November, the cheapest plan starts at $5/month for unlimited talk, text and data using Wi-Fi only. Unlimited everything using Wi-Fi or 4G cellular will set you back $40 a month.
Targeting mobile users who never quite use up their monthly allotment, Zact, which launched in May, offers an interesting proposition: Never overpay. You pick and choose packs of minutes, megabytes and texts. If you need more during the month, just add it. Used less? No worries.
The Redwood City, Calif.-based company, which received $15.5 million in funding led by Andreessen Horowitz last year, watches your usage. If you're nowhere near your limit, Zact credits the difference of a cheaper plan to your next month's bill. Minutes, megabytes and texts can are easily managed on a smartphone app and everything can be shared among users on the same plan. The catch? At minimum, you'll pay a $4.99 per line "maintenance" fee each month, plus there's a $10 activation fee.