FreedomPop: Free Internet Access on Clearwire?

Clearwire and FreedomPop, today announced the formation of a wholesale relationship supporting FreedomPop’s disruptive 4G mobile broadband service in the U.S.

FreedomPop charges 1¢ for every megabyte over their free limit of 1 GB per month. That’s $10/GB, a fairly typical overage fee.

FreedomPop is a free Internet service provider backed by Skype co-founder Niklas Zennstrom and his venture capital firm Atomico. FreedomPop originally announced plans to offer their service on LightSquared, but the satphone-based service now appears doomed due to GPS interference issues.

“This agreement enables FreedomPop to offer a disruptive retail service, providing free, flexible, high-speed internet access to millions of Americans,” said Tony Miller, FreedomPop’s VP of Marketing.

Clearwire currently offers a mobile WiMax network covering more than 130 million people in the U.S. As Clearwire’s planned 4G LTE Advanced-ready network comes online, FreedomPop expects to be able to offer users even faster speeds.

“Enabling innovative 4G business models with our mobile broadband network is a key part of Clearwire’s wholesale business strategy,” said Don Stroberg, Clearwire’s Senior Vice President of Wholesale. “FreedomPop represents the kind of disruptive service model that will shake up the exploding wireless broadband market.”

FreedomPop will pay wholesale rates for access to Clearwire’s 4G network but specific terms of the agreement are not being disclosed.

Forbes explains how FreedomPop intends to offer “free” service. FreedomPop’s plan is to offer free broadband for smartphones or other mobile devices — while charging heavier users.

FreedomPop believes 10 to 15% of its users will opt for paid premium plans. Miller likened the model to Dropbox, the popular online file-storing service that provides a free, basic service and charges nominal amounts for more storage.

Advertising will be a part of FreedomPop’s service but ads won’t generate most of the company’s revenue. FreedomPop will sell three devices: a plug-in “dongle” for laptops, a MiFi-like mobile hotspot for connecting multiple devices and a third, mystery gadget that Miller would only describe as “innovative”.

Other “free” internet services include:

  • Republic Wireless, which had pledged “unlimited” voice and data service for $19 per month, but only if most traffic was routed to Wi-Fi. Currently, customers pay $199 up front for their first month of service and for the LG Optimus smartphone running version 2.3 Android. If customers want to continue with the no-contract service, they can pay $19 a month plus taxes after that, but can cancel the service at any time without an early termination fee.
  • M2Z Networks for years worked on a plan to get the FCC to devote unused AWS spectrum to the company at no cost in exchange for offering free mobile broadband to all Americans. The effort was killed by the FCC in 2010.

Clearwire intends to have its first wave of TD-LTE 5,000 cell sites up and running by June 2013, the company said during the company’s fourth-quarter earnings conference call (transcript). Huawei’s mobile hotspot is compatible with TD-LTE, FDD-LTE, UMTS and GSM and can connect 10 Wi-Fi devices through a TD-LTE connection. Sprint hopes to initiate FD-LTE later this year using their still unused “G Block” on the AWS band (1.7/2.1 GHz).

Posted by Sam Churchill on .

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