Wi-Fi-first MVNO Scratch Wireless on hold due to 're-designing and improving the solution'

Scratch Wireless, an MVNO on Sprint's network that launched in 2013 with a Wi-Fi-first mobile service model, is no longer selling its services to new customers as it works on unspecified new products and services.

"Scratch Wireless continues to support current customers, however, our product is discontinued and unavailable for purchase," the company said on its site. "We apologize for any inconvenience."

"We are in the process of re-designing and improving the solution," CEO and co-founder Alan Berrey told FierceWireless. "We plan to make some positive announcements soon."

When questioned further about the company's situation, Berrey acknowledged that Scratch has faced challenges in selling its Wi-Fi-first MVNO service model. "WiFi-First is a compelling and disruptive force in the mobile industry," Berrey told FierceWireless. "As we have experienced, however, it is difficult to implement. There are several constraints which all WiFi-First players are facing. Scratch Wireless is in the process of tearing down industry walls and opening new on-ramps to the ecosystem. We'll let you know as soon as we have something to announce."

Scratch Wireless was one of the first MVNOs in the U.S. market to launch with a service that drove users' traffic mainly over Wi-Fi networks and fell back to Sprint's network only when Wi-Fi wasn't available. Such a setup, which supports mobile calling over Wi-Fi, generally requires specialized software on users' phones. Scratch initially launched with prices ranging from a 24-hour data and voice pass for $1.99, to a 30-day data and voice pass that cost $14.99 and provided either 250 cellular voice minutes or 200 MB of cellular data. The company initially provided service via the $269 Motorola Photon Q.

But over the years Scratch was forced to tweak its services and pricing. For example, early last year the company dropped unlimited cellular data passes from its offering, instead charging $2 for data pass for 24 hours and 50 MB of data usage, ranging up to $25 for data passes that offered 1 GB of cellular data over 30 days. And then in October Scratch stopped offering free Wi-Fi calling and free texting over Sprint's cellular network; instead the company started charging $9.99 per month for unlimited calling on Wi-Fi and cellular networks.

Scratch isn't the only company to offer mobile services under a Wi-Fi-first model. Republic Wireless, another Sprint MVNO, also offers service based on the notion that most user traffic will travel over Wi-Fi. And Google's MVNO, dubbed Project Fi that launched last year, provides a similar setup, with access to roughly 1 million public Wi-Fi hotspots alongside fallback cellular service from both Sprint and T-Mobile US.

And at least one cable operator has gotten into the game too: Cablevision's Freewheel offers unlimited access to around 1 million hotspots in New York and surrounding areas for $29.95 per month.

The Wi-Fi-first business model has been further clouded by built-in support for Wi-Fi calling from smartphone vendors like Apple; all the top nationwide wireless carriers now offer Wi-Fi calling on iPhones.

For more:
- see this Scratch site

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Sprint MVNO Scratch Wireless offers unlimited cellular calling and data for $4/day