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Wal-Mart, T-Mobile offering data-centric phone plans

The two are offering a no-contract $30 monthly plan that includes unlimited Internet, text messages and 100 minutes of calling.

Wal-Mart and T-Mobile USA said today that they would be jointly offering a new phone plan that caters to data- and text-hungry customers.

The retail giant and wireless carrier will sell a no-contract $30 plan that includes unlimited Internet access, text messages, and 100 minutes for phone calls. After customers exceed their allotment of voice minutes, the charge is 10 cents a minute.

The new plan goes after a specific demographic of customers who no longer view their cell phone primarily as a tool for voice communications. Instead, they are more apt to uses text messages, instant messaging services, or social networks to get in touch with each other.

For Wal-Mart, it's a further expansion of its wireless product lineup, particularly on the prepaid side. T-Mobile, meanwhile, improves its relationship with a major retail partner as it looks for ways to make up for the loss of RadioShack. As part of the deal, T-Mobile will be widening its Wal-Mart lineup to six phones, including its first prepaid "4G" handset.

The offer, however, has some catches. While the plan has no overage charges, a customer will see their connection speed drop significantly once he hits the 5GB mark, in a practice known as throttling. The 5GB threshold is much higher than the 2GB benchmark other carriers have set.

And while T-Mobile is eager to talk up its 4G speeds, some in the industry call it more of a souped-up version of a 3G network. In some areas, its speed is comparable, if not faster, than the speeds offered by Sprint Nextel's 4G WiMax product.

T-Mobile, which has continued to suffer through a massive loss in its contract customers, is attempting to stem the defection through more-aggressive offers and a willingness to forgo long-term service contracts, which is where the bulk of the revenue is made. In the second quarter, it lost 50,000 net customers, but more than 280,000 contract customers.

The plan will be available in Wal-Mart's 2,200 stores and on T-Mobile and Wal-Mart's Web sites on October 16.