Free Wireless Broadband for the Masses
A startup backed by a Skype cofounder plans to offer “freemium” broadband—supported by ads and social features.
When you think of basic human rights, access to wireless broadband Internet probably isn’t at the top of the list. But a new company backed by a Skype cofounder disagrees, and plans to bring free mobile broadband to the U.S. later this year under the slogan “The Internet is a right, not a privilege.”
Called FreedomPop, the service will give users roughly a gigabyte of free high-speed mobile Internet access per month on Clearwire’s WiMAX network and forthcoming LTE network. It will offer other low-cost prepaid plans that provide access to more data.
FreedomPop vice president of marketing Tony Miller gave few specific details about the company’s offerings and how it plans to make money—and won’t yet name executives or founders—but says he expects the service to roll out in the U.S. sometime between July and September and to eventually branch out to other countries as well.
FreedomPop’s arrival coincides with the rapid rise in smart-phone users and rollout of 4G networks as wireless carriers try to keep up with the growing demand for mobile data. The company is not the only one that sees an opportunity to launch a free 4G service: NetZero recently rolled out its own free and low-cost plans. But while NetZero offers 200 megabytes of free wireless data per month, FreedomPop will offer about five times that amount—more than most data users currently consume in a month.
“In our minds, the access piece is already a commodity we’re looking to further commoditize, in the same way Skype did with voice,” Miller says.
Miller says the company’s founders are friends with Skype cofounder Niklas Zennstrom, who has long wanted to work on a startup related to free Internet access. Zennstrom is a backer and an advisor, Miller says, but he is not an active manager at the company.
Miller says that, similar to Skype, FreedomPop will follow a “freemium” model where users receive some aspects of the service for free and must pay for more. After users surpass their monthly allotment, they will be charged a fee for going over that allotment (Miller says the overage charges will be “cheap”—probably about a penny per megabyte, though maybe a bit lower for prepaid customers—since FreedomPop wants to encourage use).