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Charge starts price war with $10 per month SMS-and-data phone plan

TechCrunch TechCrunch 4/05/2016 Haje Jan Kamps

If you’re anything like me, most of the time you don’t use your phone as, well, a phone, but as a conduit to the internet. Charge is a new mobile internet provider who aims squarely at the generation of people who prefer to tap on their mobile devices rather than talk into them. Next week, the company is launching a $10 per month SMS-and-data plan, and a $20 per month plan that adds unlimited voice, too.

The US is technologically at the cutting edge of a lot of things, but, as I realized when I moved here a few months ago, affordable home and mobile internet plans isn’t one of them. Compared to the price tags I’m used to in Europe, the US is horrendously expensive, especially when considering how I use my device. In the UK, for example, the data-first carrier Three offers unlimited data (!) for $30 per month.

Charge’s prices aren’t quite that low, but it’s certainly doing their bit to shake up the US market, with a $10 per month plan with unlimited SMS messages, or a $20 per month plan with unlimited calling and SMS. Data comes in addition at $13 per gigabyte.

“We don’t have a data cap”, says Charge’s founder and CEO, Andrew Benton, who got his first taste at scaring the crap out of established telecommunications companies as one of the lead software engineers at Twilio.

“All data is pay as you go at $13/GB. We charge for your data usage on a pro-rata basis,” says Benton, “If you use 2.2 GB in a month, you pay $13 x 2.2 = $28.60 for the data that month. If you use 1.4 GB the next month, you pay $18.20. You get the idea.”

The company also aims to further reduce costs of data further down the line automatically. “You don’t even have to threaten us to leave to get the lower rates once they arrive,” Benton quips. The company does not yet offer international roaming, but that may be coming further down the line.

Charge pivoted from being a messenger app previously called Bolt, and launched a data-only plan back in March, and has had a lot of interest, but the new SMS and Voice plans come in response to demands from users who aren’t quite ready to fully cut their phone service just yet.

“We are aiming to be the most flexible phone company, and we don’t force you to use anything you don’t want. We introduced phone and SMS plans after significant demand, but if you later find out you don’t need voice or SMS services, you can turn them off at any time.”

The company priced its plans to take on Google’s Project Fi head on, but has the additional benefit of working on any phone that supports the Sprint network, including the iPhone, rather than the limited selection of Android phones supported by Google’s mobile plan.

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