FreedomPop Will Take On Carriers This Summer By Offering Smartphones And A New Freemium Phone Plan

Freemium wireless data startup FreedomPop has been out to undercut traditional wireless carriers on data plan costs for over a year now, but now the company wants to up ante once more. In exchange for a recurring monthly fee of $0, users of the company’s forthcoming phone service will be able to get 500MB of wireless data access, 200 voice minutes, and unlimited messaging starting later this summer.

Oh, that’s not enough for you? For an additional $10, you get unlimited voice too.

FreedomPop COO Steven Sesar says that everything the company has done so far — from attempting to wrangle a deal with LightSquared to fine-tuning the value-add features of its currently data-only service — has all been so the company could eventually offer this sort of freemium mobile service.

“This is always been what our M.O. was about,” Sesar told TechCrunch. Originally the team (which has swelled to around 60 people over the past few months) was waiting for Sprint to launch its LTE network more widely before taking the plunge, but ultimately decided that VOIP quality over 3G was enough to warrant bringing the service to market sooner.

The company plans to release a handful of WiMAX-friendly Android smartphones when the service officially launches later this summer, and the lineup is surprisingly strong — Sesar said that the Samsung Galaxy S II and S III would be among the devices that would launch with the service, along with at least one more handset. The devices will retail for between $99 and $199, though at this point it’s unclear whether FreedomPop will sell the devices out right or hinge on a deposit method the company has mulled over in the past.

Thankfully, prospective customers can choose from a selection of devices that FreedomPop doesn’t strictly offer on it’s own. Sprint (FreedomPop’s more prominent network partner) pulled back the curtain on a bring-your-own-device program for MVNOs earlier this year, and FreedomPop confirmed to TechCrunch that their new phone customers will eventually be able to fire up existing Sprint devices on the company’s freemium phone service.

At this point though, FreedomPop is still being very cagey about how exactly the experience is going to work for its users. Aside from pointing out that this is a “purely data play” and that voice calls would be routed over a data connection, Sesar wouldn’t divulge any more details — I get not wanting to spread the secret sauce, but a little extra transparency could only help FreedomPop lock up more credibility as it gears up to take on carriers in a bigger way. FreedomPop announced a partnership with textPlus earlier this year to bring messaging and voice calls to the service’s users, but both parties have been keeping mum on the subject until then — it’s possible that this endeavor has been built on the back of that tie-up, but we’ll have to wait and see for now.

As always, it’s the company’s hope that customers who have latched onto their free monthly plan will indulge themselves with additional services (like that $10 voice bucket mentioned earlier). These past months have been a trial run of sorts for FreedomPop to work out the strange economics of its freemium services, and things seem to be going well — Sesar notes that there are “hundreds of thousands” of FreedomPop accounts and that gross margin on its services are over 50 percent. That doesn’t mean that this gutsy move will ultimately pay off, but the company appears to be on relatively firm footing for now and the lure of free service may be too much for some consumers to handle.