Update, Feb 14: many users have been reporting orders not fully processing or being unable to add their top-up credits to their account. Users are recommended to try the smallest possible denomination first, and then make the full order if the smaller transaction works
Today a service which many have been awaiting for months has finally rolled out its soft launch, and is inviting members of the public to come and test it as the site enters its final stages of launch. BitcoinWireless is a service that allows anyone to purchase top-up credits for their phone for bitcoins, and currently works with over 280 carriers in 112 countries. Anyone with a phone using any of the carriers can simply go to the site, enter their country, carrier, email address and phone number, pay the bitcoins to a receiving address generated by the site, and receive an email containing their carrier’s standard instructions for adding the credit to their plan within hours – quite often, within thirty minutes.
Many Bitcoin entrepreneurs have attempted to create similar intermediary services for various industries in the past; you can already buy gift cards for BTC, Reddit gold for BTC and, recently, even order Domino’s pizza for bitcoins with the help of third-party resellers. Bitcoin Wireless, however, is different, and for one simple reason: the prices at which they are selling are, in many countries, either at cost or even below cost, beating out even the prices set by carriers themselves. In the US, for example, buying a top-up credit with any phone plan will cost exactly $20 worth of BTC, no transaction fees attached. “We buy it at a discount,” founder of BitcoinWireless’ parent company, BitInstant, explains, “and sell it at 1:1 for BTC”. In Canada, the situation is especially favorable. For example, consider the $20 Wind Mobile topup. If one buys the topup directly from a local Wind Mobile store, or by credit card, once local sales taxes are added one pays a total price of $22.60. With Bitcoin Wireless? Converting the 0.89 BTC payment into CAD, $18.88. All of the other phone plans in Canada work similarly. That’s right: if you have a mobile phone plan in Canada, you can buy a $20 topup credit for less than $20.
Bitcoin Wireless is not the first retail business to make such an offer; that honor, at least if one restricts attention to retail businesses, and excludes companies selling products that they create themselves, goes to the Bitcoin Store, which sells electronics for Bitcoin cheaper than Amazon and NewEgg. However, it is the second, and in Canada the price difference is large enough that it may well entice at least a small number of people to go through the process of buying BTC through Cavirtex or canadianbitcoins.com just to take advantage of the savings. In the US, Bitcoin Wireless is just as expensive as its alternatives in terms of money, but for those who already have BTC lying around Bitcoin payments are far more convenient in terms of time; all it takes is to scan the QR code with a smartphone app and hit “send”.
Unfortunately, a lot of countries are still missing from the list. Nearly every country in Europe, for example, is nowhere to be found, and notably elsewhere in the world Argentina, China, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand are also missing, among others. Many other countries are available, but only at a high markup; in Russia, for example, Bitcoin Wireless sells at an exchange rate of 100 RUB for $4.5 USD, a 35% markup over the actual cost. “We’re adding more countries,” Shrem writes, “but, right now, Europe is hard.” BitcoinWireless is adding more carriers every day, and so Europe will likely be added in the months to come. The web page itself is still under last-minute testing, although it is expected that everything will be finalized within a few days. Even while plans for Europe are still in the works, though, Bitcoin Wireless offers a great way for customers in the US especially to top up their phone plan, and in Canada Bitcoin Wireless can join the ranks of Bitcoin Store as a service that is actually cheaper in bitcoins.