FreedomPop Begins Public Beta Of WiMAX

Peter Suciu for — Your Universe Online

Broadband anywhere today is still elusive. While hotspots aren´t that hard to find in urban areas, finding a free hotspot can be tricky. The rest of the time all that streaming data, even with 4G networks, users might be watching how much they use so as not to exceed limits of the plans the carriers are increasingly offering consumers.

It wasn´t supposed to be like this, with data hungry consumers worrying about overages. Wi-Fi was supposed to give away, or at least see support from Wi-MAX. But yet, the promise of WiMAX — the anywhere broadband network — has remained essentially a promise with little delivery.

Back in 2005 Alvarion had launched its WiMAX network and at the time Carlton O´Neal, vice president of marketing for Alvarion, noted, “WiMAX may not impact your life tomorrow. But WiMAX will be more engrained in your life in five years.”

While Alvarion and other service providers have built up commercial deployment worldwide, WiMAX has remained just a promise in North America.

Now, perhaps the promise is about to become a reality. This week FreedomPop CEO Stephen Stokols told The Verge, “We´re really trying to deliver a free internet experience, as frictionless as possible.”

This week the company began offering 500MB of free wireless data in major metropolitan areas in the United States, and over the next two weeks the wireless MVNO will begin accepting public beta registrations. The company will also dole out Wi-Fi hotspots along with tens of thousands USB dongles that will be required for users to access the network.

But is this too good to be true? That depends on what users feel is reasonable to use the “free 500MB.” For starters the service runs on Clearwire´s WiMAX network so it is hardly anywhere broadband, and it is an information super highway but one that could be jammed with users and move at speeds resembling rush hour gridlock according to some reports.

The cost could vary a bit, but it won´t be free. Users will need to put a $49 deposit down for the plug-and-play dongle, while the mobile Wi-Fi hotspot running on the WiMAX network will cost about $89. Those deposits are reportedly fully refundable. FreedomPop will also offer iPod Touch and iPhone sleeves for $99, which will allow direct access to the network.

The FreedomPop network will run as a “freemium” service, so much like data plans there is the cap — in this case 500MB of “free” usage, and that the service will charge for it. The concept here is based on having the heavy data users pay a bit more, which in turn is meant to subsidize those who use less — although this is hardly a “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs,” and is more of a “from each who uses a lot pays more so those who little pay less.”

Those who exceed the 500MB are then are charged $10 for each gigabyte of data, with a range of pre-purchase plans available. FreedomPop is even offering a paid option to remove a speed cap.

Users can further save money by taking part in various promotions the company will offer, but also by referring friends. While the latter sounds a bit like an pyramid scheme of sorts, it could be a way to grow the service quickly — but whether too many users will just in turn bog down the potentially crowded network isn´t so clear.

What is clearer is that Clearwire is also selling unlimited WiWAX for $49.99 a month, which does seem to be competing with what FreedomPop is offering. However, Stokels isn´t really in the WiMAX sales business, but rather is looking to commoditize it. The next step is next year´s five-year agreement with Sprint that kicks off to bring reliable LTE service to customers.

Perhaps WiMAX is finally going to be engrained in our lives. It just took a little while longer to get here.