FreedomPop has officially launched its long-awaited beta service, giving all comers a free 500 megabytes of 4G data each month. The mobile virtual network operator, which uses Clearwire’s (CLWR) WiMAX network, will offer an array of prepaid plans for customers who want more data. But, as promised, it’s supplying the means for customers to “earn” more megabytes through its unique social media strategy.
Customers can bring their total monthly data allotments to 1 gigabyte via two means: by adding other FreedomPop subscribers to the carrier’s internal social network of users, or through special promotional offers such as filling out an online survey or watching a video ad. The social element, however, isn’t a mere referral service in which you get a one-time bonus for bringing a new customer to the network. You continue to receive the 10-MB-per-person bonus as long as your contacts remain active subscribers to the network (and they remain your friends).
The limit to how much freebie data a customer can earn is 500 GB, but according to FreedomPop Chief Operating Officer Steven Sesar, the company plans to eventually ease that restriction. Sesar said FreedomPop will not only allow customers to rack up data bonuses from more friends, but it will also overlay onto its social platform more value-added services, the use of which will also accrue extra megabytes. One of the ideas FreedomPop has in the works is its own VoIP service. Customers will then be able to trade data like currency, allocating unused megabytes to friends.
We’ve already detailed many of the aspects of FreedomPop’s unique freemium business model and its wholesale relationships with Clearwire and Sprint (S). More specifics on its plans and pricing, however, have emerged for this week’s launch:
• FreedomPop is offering customers two modems: a mobile hotspot and a USB dongle. Both devices are technically free, though customers have to put down a fully refundable $49 to $89 deposit. The company will begin selling sleeve modems that fit over the iPod touch and iPhone 4 and 4S in coming weeks.
• Although FreedomPop isn’t limiting what you consume with your free data allotment, it is putting restrictions on how fast you consume it. The specific details aren’t spelled out on its website, but it appears nonpaying customers won’t have access to the WiMAX network’s full mobile broadband speeds. FreedomPop is selling a “Speed Plus” service for $3 a month, which doesn’t throttle speeds and prioritizes packets over those of nonpaying customers.
• Apart from the Speed Plus plan, FreedomPop is selling two prepaid data plans, both of which undercut the prices charged by the major operators. The first comes with 2 GB of data for $18 a month, while the second has 4 GB for $29 a month. Customers on those plans pay 1¢ for each megabyte of overage, while on the free and $3 plans customers pay 2¢ for each additional megabyte.
• The beta is open to all comers, but FreedomPop has an upper limit to the number of customers it will accept. Sesar wouldn’t identify the specific number, saying only that it was restricted to the number of devices the MVNO has in inventory.
• Another reason for limiting subscribers in the beta is that FreedomPop can’t yet offer nationwide service. Since it’s solely using Clearwire’s WiMAX at launch, it’s limited to that operator’s 4G footprint, which covers roughly one-third of the U.S. population.
• Next year, FreedomPop will switch wholesale partners, trading Clearwire’s WiMAX for Sprint’s new LTE network. Sprint’s 4G service won’t be complete at that point either, but FreedomPop will also tap into Sprint’s 3G CDMA network, giving it near-nationwide coverage.
Most interestingly, FreedomPop isn’t restricting customers to a single device. Seras said he expects families and even some individual subscribers to sign up for two or more devices, and each device will get access to its own free 500 MB allotment.
The potential for abuse, though, is obvious. Customers could order multiple devices and spread their monthly usage among them. They could even rack up more free data on each device by making each one “friend” the others on FreedomPop’s social network. Sesar, however, said FreedomPop will restrict that kind of behavior and will shut off customers that have too many devices linked to a single account or credit card.
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