Imagine that you could take your low-cost high-speed wireless Internet service with you anywhere you went. Imagine that you could also earn points for letting friends use the service, bringing the cost down to nothing. FreedomPop hopes to give its customers exactly this experience, disrupting the traditional model of ISPs.
The company, founded in July of last year, is the brainchild of Stephen Stokols an Steven Sesar, and boast such high-caliber backers as DCM, Mangrove Capital, and Niklas Zennstrom, the co-founder of Skype. Forbes believes that “the company has the potential to be as disruptive to the broadband industry as Skype is to voice.”
FreedomPop is working on several offerings. One of these, available now, is a $99 iPod Touch case that runs on WiMAX and lets the device access the Internet anywhere. FreedomPop also offers a 4G mi-fi router and a 4G USB dongle for laptops. The company guarantees 500 MB of free data every month, at 4G speeds. It says on its home page that it won't cap data and it won't throttle speeds, as many of the larger ISPs do.
The company also hopes to have a home service available as soon as next month, and is already accepting pre-orders for a Home Hub. It will offer speeds faster than basic DSL, and allow up to 10 devices to be connected at the same time to its all-in-one 4G modem and wireless router. The home service will offer one gigabyte of free Internet every month, starting at under $10 per month. Users will be able to earn unlimited free data, and will not need to sign a contract or make a commitment. FreedomPop's home service uses Clearwire WiMax.
A quick word of warning before I continue: FreedomPop is not available everywhere. You'll have to use their “see if your location qualifies” box to find out if you can use it. It rather annoyingly forced me to enter not just my zip code, but my exact home address and my e-mail address before it would tell me whether it offered service in my area. The service is not available in my area at present, but FreedomPop told me that it would contact me when it is available (no doubt this is why the site wanted my e-mail address). Sadly, I didn't see any way to tell them not to send me e-mail at this stage of their process; hopefully, if and when they do send me something, it will be a trivial matter to unsubscribe.
So, coming back from this tangent: how can users “earn” unlimited free access to the Internet via FreedomPop? According to Forbes, they can do this by adding friends to their network or “participating in partner promotional offers.” If this sounds too much like Amway for you, the 1 GB of free data every month is still nothing to sneeze at – and if you don't stream movies from Netflix, you'll probably be fine using just that much data. And even if you do use more, $10 a month is still much cheaper than the $50 or more that companies such as Time Warner Cable and Comcast charge for their Internet service.
And if you think about it, it makes excellent sense. What is the point of paying a lot of money for a heavy Internet data access plan when you don't engage in tasks that access a lot of data from the Internet? Indeed, as users discover this alternative, ISPs will need to adjust – and since FreedomPop is already cash flow positive, it just might be around for a while.
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