BestMVNO has learned from multiple sources that an unnamed wireless provider may begin selling its services through Walmart stores. Wave7 Research noted in its most recent prepaid report that "Walmart is likely soon to sell services from an additional carrier, but it is unclear which one." Twitter user @KingOfTechDeals, who works for a third-party wireless vendor at Walmart, has also shared with BestMVNO that an unspecified carrier will begin selling in stores.
So which carrier is it?
First, to be sold in stores, it would have to be a provider that has the resources to be able to put phones on the store's shelves. Although there are dozens and dozens of MVNOs and providers on the market, few have the resources to actually be able to pull that off. One such provider that may have the resources is Mint Mobile. Mint actually launched at Target stores in October of 2021. However, selling phones in stores is something very new to Mint, and it's probably too early for them to launch in another store without first seeing how things go at Target. Furthermore, Mint SIMs are currently unavailable in stores at Walmart or online. So Mint Mobile doesn't appear to be the most likely provider.
With some digging through Walmart's website, a likely candidate to fill the in-store shelves at Walmart appears to emerge. And that Candidate is Consumer Cellular. Consumer Cellular has launched online at Walmart.com. A total of seven Consumer Cellular phones are now available through the store online. Two SIM cards are also available corresponding to the two different networks that Consumer uses to provide service to its customers, AT&T, and T-Mobile. Consumer Cellular is also running ads on Walmart.com to promote its offerings there.
None of the phones or SIMs are listed as being available for pickup in-store, however, there is an option to check for nearby availability with each listing. It's also notable that each phone and SIM listing says "sold and shipped by Walmart.com." Walmart does serve as a third-party marketplace for sellers to offer their services and products, but that isn't the case here. Consumer Cellular is being sold directly by Walmart via Walmart.com. Update: Consumer Cellular is confirmed to be the new wireless provider expanding into Walmart stores.
Consumer Cellular has deep pockets and is also no stranger to retail, which further strengthens the case that they are the most likely provider to be launching in the store. The MVNO has for years been sold through Target stores. In fact, Target stores have served as a customer service center for the company. Consumer Cellular does generate over $1 billion in annual revenues. And in late 2020, GTCR, a private equity firm out of Chicago bought Consumer Cellular for over $2 billion.
There are other possible candidates that could be entering Walmart, but they seem less likely. Currently, Verizon Wireless, thanks to its acquisition of Tracfone, owns a majority of the prepaid retail shelf space at Walmart stores. Verizon could look to add to its control of the market there by adding its prepaid brand Visible to the store's shelves. In fact, in late November, BestMVNO reported that Visible began selling a Walmart exclusive SIM card and plan through Walmart.com. Launching in-store could be the next step. However, Visible has always been marketed as an online-only brand, so this would represent a major change in philosophy for the brand.
It's also possible another carrier may want to compete harder against Verizon at Walmart. Aside from Verizon, the only other carrier that owns multiple prepaid brands is DISH. However, DISH doesn't have a nationwide network up and running yet, so it's not a full carrier. But it has purchased multiple brands over the last year and a half including Ting, Republic Wireless, and GEN Mobile. So they may see an opportunity to push one of those other brands into stores. DISH's Boost Mobile brand is already sold at Walmart.
Another dark horse entry could be Ultra Mobile. Ultra Mobile is an MVNO that has a very close relationship with T-Mobile and a push into the store could be potentially backed by the carrier. Ultra Mobile did actually launch SIM cards in select Walmart stores just a few months ago. It's notable that they are the parent brand of Mint Mobile.
“Wave7 Research has reported that another carrier is likely to launch at Walmart. The identity of the carrier is unclear, although it is interesting that Consumer Cellular is now sold on Walmart.com. Having bought TracFone, Verizon now dominates prepaid sales at Walmart, so I think that having another brand available there will be a healthy thing for competition. We are now seeing Metro by T-Mobile at most Walmarts checked.” – Jeff Moore, Principal of Wave7 Research