Consider what may be in the works from FreedomPop , the firm formed by Skype Ltd. founder Niklas Zennström. The company is offering a $99 Freedom Sleeve on pre-order to enable Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPhone users to largely ignore their service provider and get a fast free data connection over the Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR) network in many major cities around the country.
The radio sleeve slips over a user's iPhone 4 or 4S, links to the phone via Wi-Fi and connects to the Clearwire network via a WiMax radio in the casing. The catch? The iPhone user would have to be out of contract -- or break his or her agreement, incurring penalties -- to take full advantage of the service FreedomPop is offering, which is free for the first 500MB a month and costs $10 per extra GB of data.
So what's new here? FreedomPop is considering the iPod Touch for the same sort of cheap mobile data anywhere deal, with fewer complications than dealing with an iPhone.
What users get with the Sleeve
Using the Freedom Sleeve, users can move among the 71 cities in the Clear WiMax network. FreedomPop says that users can also now use FaceTime video chat wherever they go and use the sleeve as a Wi-Fi conduit for up to eight devices while the new casing boosts battery life by up to six hours.
FreedomPop claims that the WiMax connection will be "up to 15x faster than 3G" with the sleeve. This seems optimistic, however, as the Clearwire network offers data download speeds of 3 to 6 Mbit/s on average. (See What We Mean When We Say '4G'.)
Why this matters FreedomPop stands as an interesting experiment in offering a cheap data service in the U.S. but is still linked to the apron strings of the carriers that initially subsidized the iPhone purchase. If FreedomPop can 4G-enable the iPod Touch with its radio sleeve, however, the data plan model becomes a much more radical proposition as it would allow users to truly roam free with a no-contract device.
Much like Skype, the FreedomPop model is unlikely to initially appeal to a business-focused user base. For a younger -- or cheaper -- audience, however, the service might provide an appealingly inexpensive way to get mobile and wirelessly chat with friends.
- Meet the New US Wireless Operators
- FreedomPop Bets on 4G With Clearwire
- FreedomPop Opts for Clearwire 4G Network
- FreedomPop Will Use LightSquared's LTE
— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Light Reading Mobile