Sprint MVNO TextNow launches Touch Mobile prepaid brand

Sprint (NYSE:S) MVNO TextNow, a no-contract service from Waterloo, Ont.-based startup Enflick, announced the launch of its new prepaid brand Touch Mobile. Touch Mobile is aimed at expanding the company's services into the prepaid space via low-cost, Wi-Fi-first service plans and inexpensive handsets.

TextNow started in 2009 as an over-the-top messaging service, similar to WhatsApp, and lets users send and receive unlimited text messages within the United States and Canada free of charge. The company offers customers a dedicated TextNow phone number, and because the service is cloud-based, users can use that number on their phones, tablets or the web to sync messages. TextNow launched as an app, and expanded into the MVNO business last year by offering handsets under a no-contract model with service from Sprint.

Now, the company is branching into the prepaid space with Touch Mobile, which offers many of the same prices and services as TextNow and runs over the Sprint network. Specifically, Touch Mobile offers service on three specialized handsets, the WiMAX-powered Samsung Galaxy S2 and the LTE-powered Galaxy S3 and Galaxy Victory. Prices for the phones will be set by independent retailers, but will range between $100 and $250.

Using the phones' native dialer, the company's service will route calls over Wi-Fi and, if no Wi-Fi is available, will then route calls over Sprint's LTE network as an IP-based call. If that network is not available, the company's software will route calls as an IP transmission over Sprint's 3G EV-DO network. If that network is not available, then the call will be transmitted over Sprint's 2G 1x network. The goal, explained company executives, is to reduce users' monthly expenses by using Wi-Fi networks.

Touch Mobile's plans start at $20 for 200 MB of cellular data and range up to $50 for 2 GB of cellular data. All of the company's plans include unlimited calling and texting on Wi-Fi. Touch Mobile noted that 200 MB of data will support 200,000 texts or 660 minutes of talking, and its 2 GB plan will support up to 2,048,000 texts or 6,820 minutes of talk. If customers travel over their data allotment, they will receive a grace period of four days, after which their service will be disconnected. Enflick CEO Derek Ting told FierceWireless the company is working on throttling technology that will slow users' speeds instead of shutting off their service.

Ting explained that Touch Mobile's service is designed to proactively test users' network connections and place them on the best network possible. He said the Touch Mobile service performs quality tests on Wi-Fi, and if the network can't support a quality voice call, the service will hand over to cellular. Ting also said that the company's service can hand off a live call from Wi-Fi to cellular (LTE and 3G but not 2G), but not vice versa.

Ting said that Touch Mobile will be sold through independent wireless retailers. He also said the company has an agreement with Frys Electronics to sell the service through the retailer's outlets.

Interestingly, Touch Mobile's service can catalogue users' communications online, allowing them to view their call records and text messages via a website.

Touch Mobile is just the latest brand to offer a Wi-Fi-first calling model. Other MVNOs offering a similar offering include Republic Wireless and Scratch Wireless. T-Mobile US, and more recently Sprint, also offer their own Wi-Fi calling services.

For more:
- see this release

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