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Free phone service FreedomPop to offer Wi-Fi first smartphone

Device will let people tap into any Wi-Fi network to make and receive calls and to go online to avoid using cellular minutes and data.

FreedomPop CEO Stephen Stokols. The company's Wi-Fi first phone is designed to sidestep cellular and help you horde your minutes.
Ringo Chiu/ZUMA Press/Corbis

Budget phone service FreedomPop will expand its smartphone lineup with a new phone that can use Wi-Fi for mobile voice, text and data.

Los Angeles-based FreedomPop is one of a number of companies looking for new ways to offer cheap phone service. T-Mobile, Cablevision and other companies also offer Wi-Fi service and hotspots to help keep costs low and lure bargain hunters. Such companies tout Wi-Fi service for its availability in areas where cellular access is weak or unavailable.

FreedomPop has tried to make a name for itself by offering free and low-cost mobile service with unlimited talk, text and data. A Wi-Fi first phone is designed to save you money by avoiding the need to tap into a cellular network where you have to bite into your allowance of monthly minutes and data. You can make and receive VoIP (Voice over IP) phone calls via a Wi-Fi hotspot as well as send and receive text messages and use the Internet. Cellular access is available but only as a last resort if no Wi-Fi is accessible.

Priced somewhere between $99 and $199 and due to launch in 2016, the new phone will be built using Intel's SoFIA platform. SoFIA is an inexpensive smartphone chip that integrates the modem with the processor to cut manufacturing costs and pass the savings to the consumer. FreedomPop will fund development of the phone with money from Intel Capital.

The SoFIA based Wi-Fi first smartphone is designed to provide seamless Wi-Fi-to-cellular switching, high-quality VoIP calls and the ability to throttle or increase network speeds. The phone will be available in the US through FreedomPop's $5-per-month plan, which offers unlimited talk, text and data, and in the UK.

The phone can tap into any Wi-Fi network or use one of FreedomPop's Wi-Fi hotspots in the US.

FreedomPop has been teaming with a variety of Wi-Fi aggregators, which bring together the networks of multiple providers, as well as direct networks to increase the number of hotspots. The goal in the United States is to have more than 90 percent Wi-Fi coverage in the top 200 major metro areas by the end of the year. FreedomPop's hotspots are typically accessible in large retail locations, such as McDonald's, Starbucks, Burger King and Best Buy.