FreedomPop plans to start selling Android smartphones this summer, becoming a full-fledged virtual mobile operator with its own unique twist. As with its freemium mobile broadband service, FreedomPop said it would offer up a baseline plan at no charge, including 500 MB of data, unlimited messaging and 200 minutes of VoIP calling.
FreedomPop is not revealing which devices it will sell or when it will offer them, promising only a launch date of later this summer. I admit I’m a little skeptical about this new curve in FreedomPop’s business model, since this isn’t the first voice service it has promised to deliver.
Back in January, FreedomPop announced a partnership with textPlus to integrate its over-the-top text and VoIP application into its mobile broadband plans. That service was supposed to launch in the first quarter, but it failed to materialize. I asked FreedomPop about the status of that deal and a spokesman told me that a TextPlus-FreedomPop app is still in the works, but would be available to its customers within the next month.
The status of this new voice service also looks a bit iffy. Not only is FreedomPop withholding key details about how the communications service will work – for instance, whether it will support free out-of-network calls and SMS or will provide customers with phone numbers – it apparently hasn’t even selected a VoIP provider to power it. According to the spokesman, FreedomPop is still trying to lock down the technology it will use and is even considering working with textPlus as white-label service provider.
I’m not trying to get down on FreedomPop here – the mobile virtual network operator definitely has some innovative ideas on how to change the mobile industry. But the Atomico-backed startup is developing a reputation for making big promises and then failing to deliver. When it first launched last year, its flagship product was supposed to be an iPhone modem sleeve that connected to Clearwire’s WiMAX network. That sleeve has been caught up in U.S. Customs for nearly a year.
Still, despite FreedomPop’s predisposition toward hype, it has made several promises it has kept. It pre-announced plans to support bandwidth sharing among customers and enter the home broadband market – both of which came to pass. If FreedomPop can deliver on its new VoIP service, it could shake up the mobile industry. Not only would it bring its freemium data and social bandwidth model to the mobile carrier market, it could become the first operator to offer a completely IP-based mobile service.