FreedomPop lets customers share their bandwidth; raises another $4.3M

FreedomPop on Thursday launched its promised data sharing program, allowing its customers to share or trade megabytes like a broadband currency. The mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) also revealed it has gone back to its investors for a another $4.3 million infusion, which FreedomPop COO Steven Sesar said would carry it through the rest of its beta trials before it launches nationwide later next year.
Sesar said you can think of the broadband sharing feature like a “family plan on crack.” Instead of sharing your pool of monthly megabytes or gigabytes with just the wife and kids, though, FreedomPop customers can request bandwidth from or award bandwidth to any other customer using FreedomPops’ social networking tools.
The broadband sharing program is the latest twist in FreedomPop’s distinctly anti-carrier approach to mobile data. As we’ve written before, FreedomPop doesn’t see much value in selling consumers data plans. Instead it wants to sell them services over what it considers a commodity pipe – it wants to be the water-slide amusement park, not the water utility.
FreedomPop social broadband
Consequently, FreedomPop is offering any customer who buys one of its modems 500 MB free of charge each month (though it sells bigger-bucket plans for a monthly fee) and allows them to “earn” more free data by referring new customers, participating in promotional programs and become entrenched in the FreedomPop social community. The more active customers become in the FreedomPop community the more free data they accrue and therefore the more likely they are to remain customers.
Under the current rules there are limits to how much data individual customers can earn or trade. But the company is gradually relaxing those rules, Sesar said. For instance, it is upping the amount of free data customers get from becoming friends with another Freedom customer from 10 MB to 50 MB each month. There is now an overall cap of 500 MB on free data customers can earn beyond their guaranteed monthly 500 MB allotment, but Sesar said the virtual carrier plans to boost the cap in the coming months and eventually eliminate it entirely.
“Ultimately the goal is to allow you to earn, exchange and share data as much as you want,” Sesar said. “Right now we’re still testing the waters, making sure customers don’t game the system.”

A lot of plans for a little company

FreedomPop plans to launch its own voice and text messaging plans next month in partnership with TextPlus. It will also expand into the home with a new wireless broadband gateway that taps into the same Clearwire(s clwr) WiMAX network used by its mobile service. Later this year it will begin selling its first LTE devices, switching to Sprint(s s) as its primary provider.
One of FreedomPop’s most attention-grabbing plans, however, is on hold. The company intended to launch a sleeve modem that fit over the iPhone 4 and 4S(s AAPL) shortly after launch, but the device has been held up by U.S. regulators for testing. That’s left many prospective FreedomPop customers who pre-ordered the device in the lurch.
Last month, FreedomPop said it hoped that the device would be cleared for shipment this month, but this week Sesar said there was still no update on when or if it would be released. He added that if the modem was delayed too much longer, FreedomPop may just move on, refocusing its strategy on other devices.
FreedomPop was founded in 2011 with the backing of Skype founder Niklas Zennstom, and since then has raised $11.2 million in funding. The company is calling the $4.1 million a series A1 round, since it includes only existing investors DCM and Mangrove Capital.
Sesar said the cash would allow FreedomPop plenty of leeway to tinker with its strategy, services and plans while in beta. But later this year, Sesar said, it plans to put together a proper series B round to launch a fully commercial service nationwide and move beyond viral marketing to attract a larger customer base.