FreedomPop, which is backed by Skype co-founder Niklas Zennstrom, said on Wednesday that it's partnering with Clearwire to provide a "disruptive" mobile 4G broadband service for consumers, free of charge, here in the U.S. Clearwire currently offers a 4G mobile broadband network covering more than 130 million Americans, but FreedomPop is hoping to offer even faster speeds once Clearwire's planned 4G LTE Advanced-ready network comes online.
"FreedomPop's ultimate goal of providing our customers with a free mobile broadband alternative will soon be realized thanks to Clearwire's proven 4G network services," said Tony Miller, FreedomPop's VP of Marketing. "This agreement enables FreedomPop to offer a disruptive retail service, providing free, flexible, high-speed internet access to millions of Americans."
The "strategic wholesale relationship" formed between the two parties will see FreedomPop paying wholesale rates for access to Clearwire's 4G network. Specific terms of the agreement are not being disclosed.
The news arrives just after the FCC said it plans to kill LightSquared's terrestrial network waiver, FreedomPop's original mobile network of choice prior to Wednesday's announcement.
"LightSquared’s proposal to provide ground-based mobile service offered the potential to unleash new spectrum for mobile broadband and enhance competition," the FCC said in a statement. "The Commission clearly stated from the outset that harmful interference to GPS would not be permitted. This is why the Conditional Waiver Order issued by the Commission’s International Bureau prohibited LightSquared from beginning commercial operations unless harmful interference issues were resolved."
"NTIA, the federal agency that coordinates spectrum uses for the military and other federal government entities, has now concluded that there is no practical way to mitigate potential interference at this time," the FCCadded.
Plans to launch a free mobile service was revealed to the public back in December, but Miller just recently explained to Forbes how the business model will work. He said there will be a "free" basic service that most of the customers will use, but premium users (bandwidth hogs) will be charged a fee -- this latter group will account for 10 to 15-percent of the overall customer base, he said.
FreedomPop won't sell devices, but it will loan out modems as long as customers put down a deposit. Three items will be up for borrowing: a USB dongle, a mobile hotspot and a third mystery device. Users will only be able to access the 4G LTE network through these three devices. That said, the service may be free, but will still require money upfront, requiring either a $49 or a $29 deposit -- that final price is still up in the air.
So how much data will freemium subscribers get with this new service? FreedomPop may enforce strict data caps or throttle back speeds to prevent users from streaming video without a premium plan. Like Dropbox and other services that sell premium plans by offering free access on a limited level, the upcoming 4G LTE will undoubtedly have some type of restrictions limiting free data usage.
We expect to hear more about the plans shortly, perhaps later this month at Mobile World Congress?