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FreedomPop Launches Free 4G Service

Los Angeles – MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) FreedomPop has launched its long-awaited free 4G mobile broadband service in beta form along with a mobile hot spot and USB data modem.

For now, the startup telecom company is selling its hardware and discounted no-contract service through its own web site, but the company plans in the first quarter to sell through “two major retail distribution partners,” CEO Steven Sesar told TWICE.

FreedomPop’s no-contract service offers a guaranteed minimum of 500MB of free 4G Mobile WiMAX wireless-broadband service every month, enough to accommodate 14 hours of streaming music, 1,200 Facebook posts, or 23,000 emails, the telecom startup said. The company will also let users earn additional free data use and offer higher usage plans said to cost less than those of major carriers. FreedomPop has said it expects about 10 to 15 percent of subscribers to use its paid service to subsidize free service for others.

In the next four to six weeks, the company plans to begin shipping Freedom Sleeves to add 4G WiMAX capability to the 3G iPhone 4 and 4S and to fourth-generation iPod touches. Sleeves for the 4G iPhone 5 and new fifth-generation touch haven’t been announced.) Although the initial devices don’t fall back to 3G service outside of 4G markets, the company “will turn to 3G when we move out of beta and start to ramp up,” Sesar told TWICE.

The company is backed by venture-capital companies Mangrove Capital, DCM, and Skype Founder Niklas Zennstom’s Atomico.

FreedomPop is reselling Clearwire’s Mobile WiMAX service but plans next year to transition to faster 4G LTE service provided by Sprint. Mobile WiMAX is available in about 80 markets covering 120 million Americans. In early 2013, the company said it will move out of beta and offer service over Sprint’s 4G LTE network, which is available in a handful of markets and is expanding to reach 123 million people by the end of 2012 and 250 million by the end of 2013. Freedom Pop said the LTE network will eventually expand to reach 230 million people.

Mobile WiMAX delivers data at download speeds of an average 3Mbps to 6Mbps with 10Mbps peaks.

FreedomPop users who want more than 500MB of free data use can earn up to 1GB of free data by getting friends to sign up for service, and users can earn unlimited data by engaging in unspecified partner promotions. Paid-for data plans for heavier users are said to be priced 20 to 40 percent below the current rates of major carriers. The costs are $19.99 for 2GB, $25.99 for 3GB, $39.99 for 5GB, $59.99 for 8GB, and $69.99 for 10GB.

 The company’s first two devices, the Photon mobile Wi-Fi hot spot and Bold USB modem, are promoted as free though they require a fully refundable deposit of $89 and $49, respectively. The previously announced sleeves for the iPod touch and iPhone 4/4S are $99 each and will begin shipping in the next four to six weeks. Preorders for the iPhone and touch sleeves began earlier this year.

FreedomPop will be the second company offering free wireless broadband. In March, NetZero launched free and low-cost no-contract 4G data plans for use with a 4G mobile WiMAX USB modem at $49.95 and a $99.95 mobile hot spot. NetZero, which is also reselling Clearwire’s WiMAX service, is the company that offers free dial-up Internet access and low-cost broadband DSL service for the home.

Clearwire’s Mobile WiMAX is available in about 80 markets, where it delivers data at download speeds of an average 3Mbps to 6Mbps with 10Mbps peaks.