Updated. If you’re a FreedomPop customer wondering where in the hell that iPhone(s AAPL) WiMAX sleeve you ordered is, CEO Stephen Stokols has an answer for you: talk the Federal Communications Commission. Stokols told FierceWireless that the feds are holding its first 5,000 sleeves at customs while the FCC goes over an untested design element.
That iPhone shell is of course FreedomPop’s signature product. It’s a WiMAX modem that fits over the iPhone 4 and 4S, substituting its 4G connectivity for the 3G radios embedded within. Ultimately, FreedomPop’s plan is to turn the iPhone into a full-on softphone providing IP voice and messaging services through textPlus. The mobile virtual network operator’s (MVNO) key point of differentiation is that it provides its baseline services for free: 500 MB of free data each month, plus the opportunity to earn more.
It’s a bit hard to execute that plan, though, if the device providing that connectivity isn’t anywhere near its customers. FreedomPop started taking pre-orders for the device back in May, and it officially launched its beta service without the sleeve in September, shipping mobile hotspots to customers. Since then we’ve gotten several reports from GigaOM readers that they had pre-ordered the sleeve but had heard no word from FreedomPop on when it should arrive.
Stokols told Fierce he expects the sleeves to pass FCC approval in the next few weeks, allowing the virtual operator to ship its first batch of 5,000 iPhone modems, but he added that the delay has cost FreedomPop and its overseas manufacturing partner $550,000 so far. Unless Stokols is somehow valuing that shipment at $1,100 per sleeve, FreedomPop probably has a lot more than 5,000 sleeves waiting to come into the country.
Update: We got hold of FreedomPop. Here’s what Stokols had to say about the holdup in an email:
“The holdup is due to the fact that the FCC is requiring an additional test for the Sleeve that requires tweaks directly to iPhone (turning off iPhone antenna). FreedomPop is working to get the necessary support to complete the final test. The actual test will take a couple days, so assuming we get needed Apple support, we are still optimistic for a ship date in [the] next month.”
Stokols added in the email it plans to make it up to customers waiting to for the iPhone shell by offering them a free 1 GB of data once they’re activated. And while the iPhone sleeve isn’t available, FreedomPop has begun selling (and shipping) its iPod sleeve, which fits over the iPod touch, effectively turning it into a data all-IP smartphone.