Scratch Wireless launches a free mobile phone service (but, of course, there’s a catch)

The Motorola Photon Q from Scratch Wireless

Above: The Motorola Photon Q from Scratch Wireless

Image Credit: Scratch Wireless
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FreedomPop isn’t the only company trying to kill cellphone carriers: Scratch Wireless launched today with the goal of being the “first truly free” mobile offering.

But, as always, the truth is a bit trickier. Scratch Wireless indeed gives you free voice and telephone service — but only when you’re connected to Wi-Fi. To get voice and data service in the wild, you’ll have to buy service from Sprint (texting is always free).

You’ll also have to drop $269 for a custom Android phone (the aging Motorola Photon II) to get started with the service. Suddenly, “free” seems a bit less so.

Twenty-four-hour data and voice passes will run you $2 each, which includes 30 minutes of calling time and 25MB of data. You can also get 30-day voice and data passes for $15 each, which grants you 250 minutes of talk time and 200MB of data. For a casual customers, those caps will likely be enough, but anyone used to streaming music and video will likely find themselves constrained.

Alan Berrey, Scratch Wireless’s cofounder and CEO, tells me he’s not worried if customers don’t end up paying for extra service. “The big point was to create an infrastructure that isn’t related to a phone company,” he said. “Our cost for delivering unlimited services over Wi-Fi is really very very low. It’s fine if we have a bunch of customers who buy the device and only use it in free mode.”

Scratch Wireless is based in Cambridge, Mass., and has raised $5 million in funding from CommonAngels and its partners.

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