Wal-Mart to Offer Contract-free Cell Phone Plans

Signing up for a mobile phone contract is often a commitment that can last years. Sure, there's always pay-as-you-go plans, but you never get the same sort of service as those offered for prepaid, contractual agreements.

Enter Wal-Mart, the American fixture to providing goods to the everyman. Wal-Mart has announced that it will be offering its own wireless plans, completely contract-free, called Straight Talk.

Straight Talk will launch at 3,200 Walmart stores nationwide starting October 18, 2009 with two prepaid plans at $30 and $45 a month.

* Straight Talk “All You Need” 30-day Plan that includes the following for only $30 a month:

o 1,000 minutes, 1,000 texts and 30MB of mobile web access

o Nationwide coverage

o 411 Information calls at no extra charge

* Straight Talk’s Unlimited 30-day Plan that includes the following for $45 a month:

o Unlimited minutes, unlimited text and unlimited mobile web access

o Nationwide coverage

o Unlimited 411 Information calls at no extra charge

According to Nielsen Mobile Bill Panel data, the average U.S. adult spends $78 on his or her cell phone bill to receive 1000 minutes a month.

"It has been very encouraging to see the excitement and response to the Straight Talk pilot in 234 stores that began last summer at Walmart,” said Greg Hall, vice president of Media Services, Walmart U.S. “In light of the savings customers continue to need, we have worked very quickly to extend this offering to all of our Walmart customers nationwide, and just before the holidays.”

While we're excited by a $45 plan that offers unlimited minutes, texts, and web access, the selection of phones are rather unexciting: from the entry-level LG 220 flip phone at $39.98, to the LG Slider 290 at $79.98 to the Samsung 451 QWERTY keyboard phone at $99.88.

Unfortunately, Straight Talk does not support GSM phones, so forget migrating your unlocked iPhone over to Wal-Mart. On the flip side, Straight Talk runs off of Verizon's network, meaning that if you get good coverage on that CDMA network, you'll get good service with Wal-Mart.

Marcus Yam is a technology evangelist for Intel Corporation, the latest in a long line of tech-focused roles spanning a more than 20-year career in the industry. As Executive Editor, News on Tom's Guide and Tom's Hardware, Marcus was responsible for shaping the sites' news output, and he also spent a period as Editor of Outdoors & Sports at Digital Trends.