FreedomPop rolls out unlimited Wi-Fi for $5 a month

As an alternative to cellular, the new service will let people tap into wireless hotspots across the United States

FreedomPop is offering $5-a-month Wi-Fi access via hotspots in the US. Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

FreedomPop is launching a service for people always hunting for Wi-Fi on the go.

Available as of Wednesday, FreedomPop's new unlimited Wi-Fi plan gives smartphone and tablet users unlimited talk, text and data for $5 per month, the company announced. The service is accessible through almost 10 million Wi-Fi hotspots around the US, many of which are normally unavailable to the public.

FreedomPop has tried to make a name for itself by offering free and low-cost mobile service with unlimited talk, text and data. The company is an MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) of Sprint, which means it doesn't run its own network but instead leases the necessary voice and data spectrum from other mobile carriers, in this case Sprint. In that respect, it relies on the cellular network of the parent carrier to give its customers online access. The new service is a departure from FreedomPop's usual method of connecting people as it instead relies on Wi-Fi hotspots.

The company is also trying to compete with cellular providers by offering people an alternative to expensive data plans that can easily get used up before month's end. As such, FreedomPop is aiming the service at a variety of users -- those who don't want to chew up their cellular minutes or data, those with a Wi-Fi-only tablet, and even those who have a cellular-deactivated phone but would still like to use it to get online via Wi-Fi.

"As wireless carriers like Verizon and AT&T commit billions to build LTE networks, companies like Google and Comcast are investing in Wi-Fi-based networks to deliver mobile data access to consumers at a lower cost," Steven Sesar, FreedomPop's chief operating officer, said in a statement. "Now FreedomPop is the first mobile carrier to offer access to the largest nationwide Wi-Fi network with talk, text and data, giving cash strapped consumers an alternative to high priced LTE data plans, or a way to simply cut down on their cellular data usage."

For now, the new service is available via the free FreedomPop Android app. But FreedomPop CEO and co-founder Stephen Stokols told TechCrunch that an iOS version is "in the works" and should be available in a couple of weeks. Windows Phone users are out of luck, as no version is planned for Microsoft's mobile OS.

FreedomPop is aiming to increase the number of hotspots to 25 million in the second quarter, a company spokesman said. The goal is to have more than 90 percent Wi-Fi coverage in the top 200 major metro areas by the end of the year.

Exactly where would users access these millions of hotspots? The company didn't tell TechCrunch who is providing the Wi-Fi. But Stokols did reveal that the hotspots would be accessible in large retail spots, such as McDonalds, Starbucks, Burger King and Best Buy. FreedomPop will team up with a variety of Wi-Fi aggregators, which bring together the networks of multiple providers, as well as direct networks to build up the number of hotspots.

To see if you're covered, open FreedomPop's "Check Availability" page. Enter your ZIP code and email address and click the "Check Availability Now" button. If you're covered, you'll need to set up an account with the company if you don't already have one. You're then prompted to fill out a form with your billing information. Click the Activate button to seal the deal.

"Nearly 90 percent of data consumed by mobile users is over Wi-Fi, meaning consumers are spending hundreds of dollars each year for only 10 percent of their total data usage," Sesar said. "FreedomPop's mission has always been about ensuring that everyone has access to affordable and essential communication services. Ubiquitous Wi-Fi means users can truly cut the carrier and still get consistent high-speed mobile data in most places."

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