US MVNO FreedomPop – “the world’s only pure data mobile player” – is in active discussions with six European operators to rollout the service in up to 12 countries, “with Asia and Latin America next on the radar”.
Already confirmed for a July launch in the UK, FreedomPop is the brainchild of US tech entrepreneur Stephen Stokols. It offers data-only services from a SIM card by leasing data capacity from big operators, and will initially offer UK customers 200MB of data, 200 texts and 200 minutes of voice completely free, but they can only use the allowance from a smartphone application.
Its UK launch, made possible by a partnership with 3, represents the company’s first foray out of the US since launching on Sprint’s network in 2011.
Stokols (pictured, left) said FreedomPop’s model not only provides consumers with a free mobile service, but it also has an added benefit of eliminating data roaming charges for those using the service abroad (provided the company sees enough uptake).
This model, he claimed, could be the most viable way to get rid of data roaming charges in the future.
“By creating one big network, we create one big market force,” he said. “Whether we are using 3’s network in the UK or Telefonica’s in Spain, it’s the same for us. If we have ten active operations in Europe, we are effectively eliminating data roaming charges because each deal we make with a local carrier is roughly based on the same rates.”
FreedomPop actually only makes money if its customers buy additional add-ons to their free package, which he compares to the approach used by low cost airline operators like Ryan Air or EasyJet. “They charge extra for baggage or leg room, while we sell an additional 100MB of data or unlimited international calling, It’s based on add-ons.” he said.
Stokols, who once served under now CEO Gavin Patterson at BT, retains his former boss as an adviser and often turns to him for help on deciding the future of the company. FreedomPop also has backing from former Skype co-founder Niklas Zennstrom.
As VP of strategy and disruption at BT, Stokols first came up with the idea for a free mobile play in 2008, and took the idea to the company’s board, before it was rejected.
“We got shot down at the time,” he said. “Networks were too slow and the wholesale market was not mature enough.”
Stokols left BT shortly after to launch his own internet company and says he was able to learn about how the internet worked on a consumer level, away from his telecoms background.
“The data evolution at that time was incredible. VoIP, WiFi and even 3G meant we could launch something like FreedomPop and really disrupt things.”