FreedomPop today launched a free, all-IP voice and data service that has a chance to prove disruptive to traditional, cellular-based carriers. It began selling its first handset — the WiMAX-enabled HTC Evo Design — with a free allotment of 200 minutes, 500 texts and 500 MBs of data each month; customers are charged for any usage that exceeds the basic plan.
As my colleague Kevin Fitchard reports, FreedomPop differs from traditional MVNOs because it buys 3G and 4G data in bulk from Sprint, using the modified Evo handsets to route voice calls over data connections to drastically reduce its costs. FreedomPop is now the second U.S. service provider to launch all-IP voice and data following TextNow’s service launch in August.
FreedomPop was founded in 2011 by Skype co-founder Niklas Zennstrom, who knows a bit about building a business on a freemium model. The company must overcome some substantial hurdles to woo mobile users away from the major mobile network operators, however: Sprint’s nationwide WiMAX coverage isn’t especially impressive, and the dated Evo may not provide quality VoIP service when it falls back to Sprint’s CDMA networks. (FreedomPop is planning to bring LTE handsets to market, however.) And if the comments following Fitchard’s piece are any indication, FreedomPop has plenty of room for improvement in the customer service department.
But the attractiveness of “free” can’t be overstated, particularly for users who don’t needed a constant, high-quality connection. FreedomPop is one of a small wave of new MVNOs taking aim at traditional mobile carriers, as I documented late last year. Even if only one of them is successful, it could force those traditional carriers to rethink their business models and lower their prices. And if you don’t believe me, just ask the French carriers who’ve been forced to respond to the disruptive Free Mobile.