FreedomPop is coming to Europe, launching its free voice and data plans in Belgium later this year with plans to expand into the U.K. and other countries in 2015.
FreedomPop is a mobile virtual network operator, meaning it doesn’t own any network infrastructure and instead pays a traditional carrier for access to its network. In the U.S. its carrier partner is Sprint, while in Europe it’s KPN Belgium, though FreedomPop CEO Stephen Stokols said the deal is just the first of many it hopes to negotiate as it moves to other parts of Europe.
“Belgium is actually a test market for us,” Stokols said. “It’s small. It’s wealthy. Everyone has credit cards. It’s a good way for test the European market before we jump into Germany or the U.K.”
Like Sprint, KPN Belgium is the third-largest carrier in its home country (where it operates under the brand Base) so it’s more amenable to MVNO deals that could potentially shake up the local mobile market. Unlike Sprint, KPN and other European carriers use GSM technology and operate in a SIM card-driven services market.
That works out to be a big advantage for FreedomPop since it doesn’t have to deal with procuring, stocking and supporting smartphones. It just need to ship SIM cards and invite customers to download the iPhone and Android apps that power its core VoIP and messaging services, Stokols said.
Europe is also a much more inexpensive market than the U.S. when it comes to voice and data pricing. Stokols, however, said FreedomPop expects to see interest in its service – no matter how cheap European mobile plans are, you can’t beat free. FreedomPop plans to replicate its core freemium service plan in Belgium, offering 200 voice minutes, 500 SMS messages and 500 MBs of data at no cost. FreedomPop sells larger-bucket plans and charges customers that go over their gratis allotments.
But FreedomPop could tweak the numbers on its baseline plan as it gets closer to launch this fall. Consumer mobile pricing isn’t just cheap in Europe. Wholesale pricing for virtual operators is inexpensive as well.
“It’s half of what we pay domestically,” Stokols said. “We could give 1 GB away for free and pay the same wholesale prices we do in the U.S.”