Last month, FreedomPop began taking pre-orders for a $99 sleeve that turns an iPod touch into a voice-enabled 4G handset. The device uses Clearwire’s(s clwr) WiMAX 4G network for connectivity and is combined with a VoIP software client so that the iPod essentially becomes a modern day smartphone. That sounds great for those that don’t want a monthly smartphone bill — Freedom Pop gives you 500 MB a month for free — but what happens if you need to dial 911?
The answer to that is to be determined. Light Reading surfaced this issue last week, and was told by a Freedom Pop representative that the company “should have more insights by launch later this Summer.” This issue isn’t unique to Freedom Pop, though, as it applies to all voice over IP calls. However, many such services can leverage a phone’s GPS chip or fall back to a 2G or 3G cellular network to assist with location. The iPod touch has neither capability, leaving Freedom Pop without a simple solution.
In the coming years, we’ll be transitioning all of our mobile calls from traditional cellular voice to IP-based communications; voice will simply become another data type on mobile broadband. That’s no secret and is why, according to EETimes, North American network operators are looking to get E911 support on LTE by 2014. That timeline may not be aggressive enough in the rest of the world for emergency location services though: On Wednesday, SK Telecom is set to turn on Voice over LTE, for example.
This doesn’t mean the FreedomPop sleeve for iPod touch is a bad product; heck, it’s not even in customers’ hands yet, so I can’t speak to the performance. However, if you’re thinking of cutting expenses by dropping your standard smartphone bill and going with the Freedom Pop sleeve, realize that you may be giving up your ability to dial 911 to have help find you. Let’s see what the company figures out for launch.