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FreedomPop launching freemium phone service through Sprint this summer

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Freemium mobile broadband provider FreedomPop has a broad reach, offering free but limited wireless service in the form of a dongle, hotspot, home modem, or iPhone sleeve. And today, it's launching into direct competition with wireless carriers, offering a mobile phone plan that will let users call, text, or use data for free. The plan, which will launch this summer, includes 500MB of mobile data just like FreedomPop's other options. But it will also give subscribers unlimited SMS service and 200 minutes a month, as well as unlimited calls to other FreedomPop customers — though that feature probably will be of limited use outside families.

Like other FreedomPop services, users will pay for the hardware: Forbes reports that the company will sell refurbished HTC Evo 4G and possibly Samsung and LG phones for price points between $99 and $199. There's no contract, and initial service is free, but going over the minute allotment will bump the cost up to around $10 a month for unlimited calling. Data costs more but is still relatively cheap, coming in at $18 a month for 2GB — that's roughly comparable to FreedomPop's other data prices. The service will run on Sprint's network, but instead of operating as a traditional MVNO, it will use VoIP over mobile broadband.

Extra minutes or data costs more, but it's still cheap compared to other mobile providers

FreedomPop's model is similar to that of Republic Wireless, which launched in 2011 and offers unlimited talk, SMS, and data for $19.99 a month on a Motorola phone. But while Republic falls back on Sprint's 3G network when VoIP calling on Wi-Fi is unavailable, FreedomPop is based purely on mobile VoIP. Both, however, are aimed at casual users who want no-frills mobile at rock-bottom prices.

FreedomPop's service, currently based on Sprint / Clearwire WiMAX with the promise of future LTE, won't offer the speed or broad coverage of a top-tier mobile carrier: the current broadband service offers slower speeds for free and charges for faster "prioritized" browsing. Likewise, it's already possible to route much texting and calling through VoIP services; FreedomPop's long-delayed iPhone sleeve could theoretically fill in for a carrier contract when it's released. But for people who want the stability of having a phone carrier but don't require many minutes or super-fast data, it's worth checking out.