Technology Review – Called FreedomPop, the service will give users roughly a gigabyte of free high-speed mobile Internet access per month on Clearwire’s WiMAX network and forthcoming LTE network. It will offer other low-cost prepaid plans that provide access to more data.
The service is expected to roll out in the U.S. sometime between July and September and to eventually branch out to other countries as well.
FreedomPop’s arrival coincides with the rapid rise in smart-phone users and rollout of 4G networks as wireless carriers try to keep up with the growing demand for mobile data. The company is not the only one that sees an opportunity to launch a free 4G service: NetZero recently rolled out its own free and low-cost plans. But while NetZero offers 200 megabytes of free wireless data per month, FreedomPop will offer about five times that amount—more than most data users currently consume in a month.
FreedomPop will follow a “freemium” model where users receive some aspects of the service for free and must pay for more. After users surpass their monthly allotment, they will be charged a fee for going over that allotment (Miller says the overage charges will be “cheap”—probably about a penny per megabyte, though maybe a bit lower for prepaid customers—since FreedomPop wants to encourage use).
Users will be able to earn more data usage through some social features built into the service, and share some of their allotted data with other users.
Miller says FreedomPop will offer three mobile broadband devices at first. There will be a USB dongle for laptops, a Wi-Fi hotspot device that can connect up to 20 devices to the Web, and an iPhone case that will allow the smart phone to circumvent the user’s wireless carrier and can also charge the phone and act as a hotspot for up to eight additional devices.
Users won’t pay for the devices, but they will have to fork over a refundable deposit fee.
Clearwire’s range is still limited. The service currently reaches more than 130 million people in over 70 U.S. cities. FreedomPop also has a deal with LightSquared, which has been planning a nationwide wholesale LTE network, but the U.S. Federal Communications Commission recently revoked LightSquared’s permit. Miller says FreedomPop is working on another U.S.-based dea