FreedomPop heads abroad with free mobile network landing in Belgium first
Despite somewhat limited success in the U.S., FreedomPop is taking its mobile network abroad. It will begin rolling out in Belgium later this year, with other European countries to follow.
Other countries FreedomPop is targeting include the UK, Spain, France and Germany. By the end of 2014, FreedomPop plans to be available in eight countries.
In the U.S., FreedomPop piggybacks on the Sprint Network. It offers 500 MB of data, 500 minutes of talk, and 500 text messages for free each month to subscribers, making money from increases to those limits and other upgrades. In Europe, FreedomPop will be offering the same plan using the network of KPN Belgium, known locally as BASE.
Although FreedomPop sells a number of popular smartphone models in the U.S., in Europe users will be required to use a phone they already have or purchase one elsewhere. Smartphones not locked into a particular network are much more common in Europe, and shipping only SIM cards makes it easier to roll out the service.
"This is a key point about our international expansion," CEO Stephen Stokol says. "Euro markets are not as device-centric as the U.S. [so] we will be SIM only initially, which allows us to turn on new markets quickly, and we don't have to deal with device procurement and logistics."
Another differing aspect of the European smartphone market is the importance of roaming. Subscribers often use their phones in other countries, so carriers with low roaming rates are often prioritized. Stokol says that FreedomPop will be offering competitive pricing for roaming, and may even allow subscribers to take advantage of their free data usage in other countries.
Although FreedomPop does have about 250,000 subscribers in the United States, it's a far cry from the well over 30 million subscribers held by the four major wireless carriers. However, Stokols says operating costs in Europe are actually significantly less than those in the U.S.
"It's half of what we pay domestically," he says. "We could give 1 GB away for free and pay the same wholesale prices we do in the U.S."
FreedomPop may change the pricing of plans in Europe to reflect this decreased cost. This would also allow it to better compete with other mobile carriers in the area, which are far less expensive than those in the U.S. FreedomPop has not specified a launch date, saying only that service would begin in the coming months.
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