FreedomPop started selling its own Wi-Fi-only phone last year, so it was only a matter of time before the mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) started selling Wi-Fi service. On Wednesday it will turn on access to a Wi-Fi network of 10 million hotspots and an unlimited voice, SMS and Wi-Fi data plan for $5 a month – quite a deal if you don’t mind cutting the tether to the cellular network completely.
The Wi-Fi network is actually owned and run by many different ISPs and hotspot aggregators, FreedomPop CEO Stephen Stokols told me in an interview, though he wouldn’t reveal the names of specific providers. He did, however, name specific examples of places FreedomPop Wi-Fi can found: [company]Starbucks[/company], [company]Burger King[/company], [company]McDonalds[/company] and [company]Panera Bread[/company] locations; [company]Walmart[/company] and [company]Home Depot[/company]; malls and outdoor hot zones in major metro markets.
So FreedomPop is obviously working with some of the biggest Wi-Fi aggregators in the country such as [company]Google[/company] and [company]AT&T[/company] as well as big ISPs like the cable operators, who run urban hotspot networks. Stokols did confirm that FreedomPop is not working with [company]Boingo[/company] so you’re probably not going to see FreedomPop’s Wi-Fi service in a lot of airports, but he said there is a deal with Devicescape in the making, which could add millions more crowdsourced hotspots from small businesses to FreedomPop’s network in the coming months.
To tie all of those different networks together, FreedomPop has developed an Android app (no word yet on iOS) that will act as a kind of skeleton key for those 10 million hotspots. The app will automatically log the device into the access point when they’re available and will establish secure links at hotspots that support encrypted connections. As more ISPs move adopt newer Hotspot 2.0 technology, FreedomPop will migrate its app to the new login technology as well, Stokols said.
FreedomPop won’t just be selling offering the service over its own tablets and phones. The company plans to use the network to expand beyond [company]Sprint[/company] devices — it currently resells Sprint’s 4G data services – to practically any device that has a Wi-Fi radio. Stokols said that there are millions of retired devices lying around people’s homes that no longer have cellular service from any of the major carriers. FreedomPop is offering to reconnect those devices through Wi-Fi. There’s also an opportunity to sell FreedomPop’s Wi-Fi access to prepaid phone users with limited data plans, Stokols said.
It’s safe to say that FreedomPop’s customers are already pretty comfortable with Wi-Fi. The virtual carrier’s baseline “freemium” service gives any customer 200 VoIP minutes, 500 text messages and 500 MB of 4G data at no charge, so customers naturally gravitate to their home, office and public Wi-Fi networks to augment their data usage. FreedomPop eventually plans to begin asking its customers to bring their own personal Wi-Fi routers into the fold, creating a crowdsourced network similar to Fon’s, Stokols said.