If you've ever struggled with a monthly cell phone bill, you've probably looked for cheaper alternatives like prepaid plans from big box stores or startup carriers like Zact and Ting. Well, what's cheaper than free? That's exactly what Scratch Wireless aims to offer with what it claims is the world's first free mobile service, which launches today. It manages to do so with a modified Android OS that pushes the phone to connect to WiFi for pretty much everything -- calls, text and data. However, if you do want to use your phone outside of a WiFi area, that's when the charges come in. Scratch Wireless has a partnership with Sprint to offer $1.99 per day for up to 30 minutes of cell calls and another $1.99 per day for up to 25MB of data. There's also a monthly $14.99 pass for either 250 minutes of voice calls or 200MBs of data.
Both daily and monthly passes are entirely optional, and it's up to the consumer to add those services. Payment is not recurring, and there's never a contract. Regardless of which you choose, Scratch promises us that text messaging is always on and free. CEO Alan Berrey tells us that Scratch Wireless wanted to take a different tact from traditional cell phone service. "There's no unnecessary cost with us," he says. "We have no towers, no FCC, no leasing locations to deal with." Because of this so-called "WiFi First" strategy, the phones will work internationally as well, as long as you have access to a WiFi network of course.
Right now Scratch only offers one phone with the specially modified OS, and that's the Motorola Photon Q for $269. Berrey did promise us that a long list of Sprint-compatible devices is in the pipeline, but we should note that this modification is unique to Android, so we wouldn't expect anything with iOS or Windows Phone to be in Scratch's portfolio. While the non-WiFi daily and monthly data allotments seem mighty skimpy to us, Scratch is clearly aiming its service primarily for those who are constantly in range of a WiFi network. "We believe consumers ought to be able to buy a compelling Android device and not pay for a plan when they already have a wireless network in their home or office," said Berrey. If that sounds intriguing to you, hit the source for more info or head past the break for the promo video.
Scratch Wireless Debuts with a Mission to Make Mobile Free
Launches with $5 million in funding for "Wi-Fi First" strategy
CAMBRIDGE, MA, October 16, 2013 – Scratch Wireless, the world's first truly free mobile service, launched today with $5 million in funding and a vision to revolutionize the mobile phone industry with its "Wi-Fi First" mobile service. Combining top-of-the-line Android smartphones, access to existing Wi-Fi networks and partnerships with cellular network operators, the company promises to make free texting, voice and data services available on Android smartphones beginning in the fourth quarter of 2013.
Scratch Wireless is addressing an acute pain point for many cell phone users: mobile service is too expensive. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, Americans spent on average $83 per month on smartphone service in 2012. Many families pay upwards of $3,000 annually for their mobile service, and users are often locked into two-year contracts that they cannot easily (or affordably) get out of. At the same time, consumers are using fewer voice minutes each month – about 673 in June 2012 down from 714 in 2011, and that number is dropping as people increasingly rely on their devices for data, not voice services.
In contrast to traditional and expensive cell phone contracts, the Scratch Wireless model is simple: make text, voice and data services free when a user is on Wi-Fi, and make texting free – always.
Scratch is able to take the cost and complexity out of mobile service by providing smartphones that leverage existing Wi-Fi networks to let people text, access data and talk for free whenever they are on a Wi-Fi network. When they are away from Wi-Fi, Scratch will offer pay-as-you-go access to cellular data and voice but with no contract or obligation. And Scratch makes texting free whether users are on a Wi-Fi network or not.
Backed by funding by investors including CommonAngels, the founders and industry partners, Scratch Wireless is employing a "Wi-Fi First" strategy that takes advantage of a quickly growing number of Wi-Fi network access points and hotspots, a number which is expected to reach 5.8 million by 2015 (up from 1.3 million in 2011).
The Scratch Wireless leadership team includes Co-Founder, President and CEO Alan Berrey, who has held senior leadership roles at key mobile and information technology companies including SoundBite Communications, Mobile Collect and Logica (now part of GCI). Accomplished entrepreneur and WiTricity CEO Eric Giler, who has served as CEO of groundbreaking technology companies including Brooktrout and Groove Mobile, joins Berrey as co-founder and chairman of the Board.
The Scratch team also includes Vice President of Product Development Michael DeJadon, who brings extensive technical experience to the company having previously worked as a senior software engineer for Thomson Grass Valley, and Jon Finegold, vice president of marketing, who previously held leadership positions at Swirl Networks, Thinking Screen Media and where.com.
"We live in a world where many vital technologies – from email to social networking – are free. Why not mobile phone service?" notes CEO Alan Berrey. "At Scratch Wireless, our mission is to make mobile free to all through the power of Wi-Fi, great handsets and a simple service model that will revolutionize wireless forever."
About Scratch Wireless
Scratch Wireless is the world's first free mobile service for text, data and voice. Through partnerships with industry-leading manufacturers and network operators, Scratch offers consumers full featured Android smartphones with free mobile service. Championing a "Wi-Fi First" approach to mobile communications, Scratch Wireless is changing the way people think about mobile service forever. To learn more about Scratch Wireless, please visit http://www.scratchwireless.com or follow @ScratchWireless on Twitter.