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FreedomPop & Intel Take On Google Fi

FreedomPop is launching a new "WiFi-first" project with Intel, intended to rival Google's "Project Fi" and run on a GSM-based operator in the US and UK, not FreedomPop's usual partner, Sprint.

FreedomPop announced Tuesday that it is getting undisclosed funding from Intel Capital to launch a smartphone, built by an unnamed OEM in 2016, using Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC)'s "SoFIA" "WiFi-first" system-on-a-chip for tablets and smartphones.

Speaking to Light Reading on Monday, FreedomPop CEO Stephen Stokols explains that FreedomPop will use a different cellular partner for the SoFIA phones because Intel has ambitions for a "global reach," and the CDMA technology that underpins Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S)'s network is not used much outside of the US. GSM is the global standard. (See Intel Chief Defends Huge Mobile Losses.)

The cellular partner will be "one of the GSM guys," Stokols tells us. He won't say whether that means AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) or T-Mobile US Inc. in this case. Traditionally, T-Mobile has been seen as more friendly to mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), independent service providers that run their own branded services by renting out network capacity from one of the big four providers in the US.


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"I will say, as an aside, that AT&T's wholesale division has become a lot more open," Stokols added. Verizon Wireless wholesale is "getting aggressive" too, Stokols notes, although that wouldn't be relevant for SoFIA because Verizon's network is also underpinned by CDMA.

At heart, the SoFIA phone will be WiFi focused, with "sophisticated switching" between WiFi VoIP calls and cellular if the WiFi network becomes congested -- for example, if the user is in a Starbucks and the WiFi network becomes clogged with other customers streaming video and audio.

Intel has been trying hard to break into the mobile market against rival Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM), mostly in the tablet arena. So even though startup carrier FreedomPop isn't one of the big four in the US, the strategic aspects of the deal could be more important for Intel.

Stokols describes the deal as "relatively important" for Intel, "because they are behind in wireless.

FreedomPop is still pulling in funding. Stokols says that the MVNO could close between "$50 million to $100 million" more in funding this year. He doesn't think that an IPO is on the cards at the moment though.

FreedomPop has raised nearly $60 million in publicly disclosed funding since it started in 2011. (See FreedomPop Gets a $10M Asian Infusion.)

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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