25 November 2013

FreedomPop Now Allows Bring Your Own Phones

FreedomPop, a mobile cellular service initially backed by Skype founder Niklas Zennström, has been trying to make good on its slogan: “The Internet is a right, not a privilege” through a freemium business model. 

FreedomPop offers three tiers of phone plans.  The base level gives a customer 200 voice minutes 500 texts and 500 MB of data for $0.  FreedomPop’s e middle tier offers 500 voice minutes, unlimited texts and the 500 MB of data for $7.99.  If a FreedomPop consumer “splurged” to get unlimited voice, unlimited texts and 500 MB of data, it would only cost $10.99.  If a customer needs more, voice minutes are a penny a piece and 1 MB of data for 2.5 cents (or penny per MB for Premium Data subscribers)   FreedomPop does not officially support Hotspot for their handsets. FreedomPop customers are eligible more free services through social networking or participating in surveys et cetera. 

As a  a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO), FreedomPop does not have to maintain a network and does not entice customers with subsidized brand new handsets in exchange for an expensive iron-clad contract.   FreedomPop utilizes an Voice Over Internet (VOIP) voice and IP.  FreedomPop finds that around 45% of their customers purchase upgraded service. 

During the first ten weeks of FreedomPop Phones, it was offering refurbished HTC Evo 4G Design phones  for $99.  This was a decent price for a free phone service, but the price was not right for a cellular consumer who has a stack of superceded smart phones at his fingertips   But after network partner Sprint finally gave its blessing, FreedomPop can now accept Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) for unlocked Sprint CDMA cell phones.  This allowed me to repurpose a legacy HTC Evo for a low cost (to no cost) second cell phone line.

Following their Freemium model, FreedomPop phones look to various approaches to monetize.  Much to FreedomPop’s credit, the company moved away from the $0.99 minimum usage charge which they initially attached to their Hotspots.  And data usage is frozen when there is less than 100 MB unless FreedomPop has permission to automatically top it off with a revolving charge.   FreedomPop does assess a $2.74 per month charge for voicemail, which can manually be excluded.  At sign up, customers are offered a complimentary 1 GB bonus, which later converts to a $9.99 a month charge. 

 If a customer took the premium 1 GB of data, the voice mail and unlimited talk and texting, the total bill would be $23.72.   On the one hand, FreedomPop’s $23.73 pricing is slightly more than the PayLo unlimited talk and text for feature phones but includes much more data.  On the other hand, Virgin Mobile offers unlimited texting, 300 voice minutes and unlimited data for $35.

Calls and texts are routed through a FreedomPop application on the smart phone.   Ths underlines that  savvy consumers should not look to MVNOs in isolation for answers about mobile connectivity.

There may be alternatives to the FreedomPop Voicemail.  Since  consumers are unable to port old cell phone numbers during FreedomPop Phone’s ongoing Beta testing period, a good idea is to link a G-mail Account with a new Google Voice number for messages.  Sidebar calling can be done with apps like Google Voice or Talkatone, so one can give the Google Voice number and call the person back using either service.  Google Voice can also move these voice messages into Google Chat.  Google Voice  not only records the message, it sends an email with a transcript (and will even translate it for you). If using this methodology, use the cell phone to authenticate Google Voice.  Necessity is the mother of invention for customizing cellular service for those willing to think outside of the box.

Granted that the sound quality for voice calls is typical of VOIP with a slight latency in signal and what can be characterized as car phone sound quality.  But these are small sacrifices for 200 free voice minutes. 

While FreedomPop cellular service  will have little appeal to “Digerati” who feel compelled to have the latest and greatest phones and think nothing of triple digit cell bills.  But there are some “old school” mobile phone users who are chary about monthly bills who would cotton to a one time charge for a smart phone and not needing to worry about charges for their “emergency” mobile device.  Those who would qualify for a federal Lifeline phone (a.k.a. Obamaphone) would get a much better deal with FreedomPop Phones, but the consumer would need to buy the older handset (which can be found inexpensively on E-Bay).  

As for myself, it is worth considering making FreedomPop a primary mobile carrier.  I use less than 300 voice minutes and 500 texts a month.  However there are times that I use more than 1 Gig of data and I would prefer to have a carrier which allows for Hotspot connections for a tablet. Hence, I will make FreedomPop a secondary phone.

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