My colleague Kevin Fitchard reports this afternoon that Scratch Wireless has launched what he calls a “cellular-as-a-last-resort” offering in beta. The service, which is available only through invitation, includes free voice and SMS when carried over Wi-Fi connections. Scratch also offers two “cellular passes” — one at $2 a day and another at $15 a month — that include capped voice and data access over Sprint’s network. Scratch launches with just one phone, the $269 Motorola Photon Q, which supports LTE.
Scratch is clearly targeting the most budget-conscious of consumers who have no need to be constantly connected. But the company joins FreedomPop, Republic Wireless and a handful of other virtual network operators that threaten to disrupt the traditional carrier model by using Wi-Fi to offer bargain-basement (or free) wireless service. That’s a strategy that France’s Free Mobile has used to attract subscribers and force big operators to lower their prices. The cut-rate newbies may not have to gain mass-market traction to do the same here in the U.S.