Ina Fried

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FreedomPop, TextNow Plan New Services Atop Sprint’s Network

One of the interesting oddities about the wireless market is that the chief players — companies such as AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile — lease out space on their networks to companies that then offer consumers competing services, often at a lower monthly cost.

The first wave of so-called mobile virtual network operators didn’t get much traction, but this time around there are some interesting propositions offering free or very low-cost monthly plans for both phones and hotspots.

Two companies are announcing new efforts on Tuesday, both riding atop Sprint’s network. FreedomPop — a Niklas Zennstrom-backed startup that gives away 500 megabytes of data, is making its move from WiMax to LTE, offering one of Sprint’s latest hotspots. FreedomPop will charge $150, including the free monthly data, as compared to the $250 that Sprint is charging for the same device.

TextNow, meanwhile, is aiming to shift from a Wi-Fi-based messaging and calling app into a full-fledged mobile service. For $18.99, the company will offer 500MB of data, unlimited texting and incoming calls, as well as 750 minutes of outgoing calls. The company will use Sprint’s network in areas where the customer doesn’t have Wi-Fi.

“From Day One, our biggest priority has been to make smartphone service better and more affordable for everyone,” said Derek Ting, CEO of TextNow parent Enflick. “The announcement of TextNow mobile phone service — combined with our recent launch of Mi-Fi — marks a big milestone toward accomplishing this mission and making it affordable for every person to have a cellphone in his or her pocket.”

As for FreedomPop, its proposition remains largely the same as the company has done with past hotspots and devices — but with faster and more reliable LTE service. (The free 500MB will apply only to 4G coverage, with an option to include 3G roaming, costing users $3.99 per month.)

“This is kind of big for us,” FreedomPop CEO Stephen Stokols said in an interview. Stokols said it is part of a company-wide shift to LTE-based devices. FreedomPop plans to offer its first phones in about six to eight weeks.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus