Ina Fried

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FreedomPop Expands Its Free Service to Voice

While there are lots of discount cellphone plans out there, alternative carrier FreedomPop is trying to introduce a new price tier — free.

This summer, the company plans to offer a plan with various Android phones that gives customers 200 free voice minutes, along with unlimited texting and 500 megabytes of data service.

FreedomPop already offers customers 500MB of free data on various devices, including hotspots, USB sticks and an add-on sleeve for the iPod touch.

In an interview, FreedomPop CEO Stephen Sokols said that his company had set out to offer its voice and data plan first, but decided for a variety of reasons, including testing, to start out with data-only devices.

“This is actually what we wanted to do out of the gate,” Sokols said. The new service should be ready by August or September, he said, though FreedomPop will start taking preorders on its website.

In addition to the free plan, Sokols will offer a $10-a-month option for unlimited voice calling. All of the calls (except emergency 911 calls) are routed over the Internet using customized tweaks the company has made to the Android dialer.

FreedomPop is planning some unique options when it comes to getting devices. Rather than make customers pay high unsubsidized prices for high-end devices, the company has been stocking up on tens of thousands of high-quality refurbished WiMax devices, such as the Galaxy SII and Evo 4G — devices it hopes to be able to sell for $200 or less without a contract.

Beyond that, Stokols said that the new service will work with any Sprint phones, including the newest LTE devices, such as the Galaxy S4. The FreedomPop service could be especially attractive to Sprint Android customers who have reached the end of their contract.

There are other low-cost plans out there, such as Republic Wireless’s $19-a-month plan, as well as free cellphone service for low-income families, such as Sprint’s Assurance Wireless.

But FreedomPop is trying to do what several Internet service providers did back in the original dot-com boom — take the basics all the way to free, and make money on add-on services. The company, which is backed by Skype founder Niklas Zennstrom, added a further $4.3 million to its coffers earlier this year.

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