By Alok Saboo on May 28th, 2012
One typically does not associate VoIP with telecom operators. Given that internet telephony eats into their revenues, this is understandable. However, not extending the benefits of technology to consumers has not helped telecom operators. Many companies have mushroomed to fill in the gap left by telco’s unwillingness to extend the benefits of VoIP to consumers (see my recent post on why mobile operators may die out if they do adopt VoIP).
Looks like telecom operators are slowly realizing this fact and adjusting their strategies, albeit slowly. Straight Talk, a TracFone Wireless Inc. offering, has introduced a no-contract unlimited calling plan that lets you make unlimited calls within the USA and a few international countries. Should you bite the bullet?
Straight Talk has been offering no-contract cell phone services for a while and has over 19 million subscribers. Until now, it had two plans: 1) $30 “All You Need” plan with 1000 voice minutes, 1000 text messages, and 30 mb of data, and 2) $45 unlimited plan with unlimited calls, texts, and data. The company has now added a third plan – $60 Unlimited International plan, which, in addition to unlimited nationwide calls, texts, and data, also offers unlimited international calls to several destinations. You can get details on its service plans here. Straight Talk has not listed the countries where you can make unlimited calls, but you can look up if your destination is covered. I manually searched the destinations, and here are some countries that are supported. The list includes some popular destinations, including India, China, and some European countries.
Argentina, Bulgaria, Canada, Caribbean, Chile, China, Colombia, Croatia, Cyprus, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Israel, Italy, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, South, Sweden, UK, USA
Although Straight Talk does not explicitly state the usage restrictions, the company deserves the right to terminate your services for abusive usage. Here is the relevant portion from the ToS:
Straight Talk may discontinue providing Service to you, discontinue your account, discontinue providing connections to particular telephone numbers or types of Services used or called by you, terminate data connections and/or reduce data throughput speeds for customers whose usage, in the sole judgment of Straight Talk: (1) appear likely to generate abnormally high call volumes or Mobile Web Access and data usage and/or abnormally long average call lengths or Mobile Web Access and data usage as compared to the usage of other Straight Talk customers; (2) may be harmful, disruptive, or interfere with the Carrier’s network or Straight Talk or the Carrier’s ability to provide service to other customers; or (3) for any other reason in Straight Talk’s sole discretion. For detailed description of activities that could result in service interruption or termination, see paragraph 7 and the section entitled “Straight Talk Features: Intended Use” under the Mobile Web Services Section below. By initiating Service and placing or receiving calls, you acknowledge and agree to Straight Talk’s right to terminate your Service under these circumstances.
You can buy handsets from Straight Talk or bring your existing devices (including your unlocked iPhones) to Straight Talk. The company has agreements with all four major providers – AT&T and T-Mobile for GSM; Verizon and Sprint for CDMA.
To Subscribe to the Straight Talk Unlimited International Plan or not?
Now, the big question – should you subscribe to the unlimited international plan? Before I answer the question, consider this – you are paying $15 over an above the $45 unlimited plan. Basically, if your calling pattern justifies the $15 expense, this is a right plan for you. Unlike Vonage World Plan that offers unlimited international calls through both landline and mobile phone, under Straight Talk you are limited to your mobile phone. Also, there are fewer destinations where you can make calls.
If you are already with Straight Talk and happy with their services, your destination is covered, and you make over 10 hours of monthly international calls (this is assuming the call rates to be around 2.5 cents), then this may be a good plan for you. The number will change depending on your destination, e.g., if you make calls to India, you need to talk for over 15 hours to justify the additional expense. Even if you are not currently on Straight Talk, you must compare the two plans – unlimited vs, unlimited international.
In general, I am not a huge advocate of unlimited plans as most users do not use the level of service required to justify the cost. Basically, assess your usage patterns and then take the plunge.
If you want recommendation about your specific case, let me know in the comments.