FreedomPop goes national with a Sprint-powered mobile hotspot

FreedomPop has made national headlines for its “freemium” take on mobile broadband service, but it’s never been able to offer a nationwide service. The reason is it’s always been dependent on Clearwire’s WiMAX network to connect its customers, and Clearwire(s clwr) only offers that connectivity to about a third of the country’s population.

But starting Wednesday FreedomPop is selling a new hotspot modem that connects to Sprint’s nationwide CDMA EV-DO network. The modem will likely clock sub-megabit 3G speeds when on Sprint’s network, but it will connect to any Clearwire tower when available. That allows FreedomPop to give its current customers nationwide coverage as well as market the service to customers outside of Clearwire’s 80-city footprint.

As we’ve reported, FreedomPop eventually plans to tap into Sprint’s new LTE network, allowing it to wean itself off Clearwire’s WiMAX systems (it will keep its home broadband service with Clearwire though). According to CEO Stephen Stokols, FreedomPop will start selling an LTE-CDMA hotspot in about six months. He added that the mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) wants to wait until Sprint builds up its LTE footprint before making the leap. Right now Sprint has 88 cities and towns under its LTE umbrella, but plans to make a big expansion push this summer.

FreedomPop iPhone sleeveFreedomPop is only selling a hotspot, the Overdrive Pro, on the new network. It’s signature device, a sleeve modem designed to fit around the iPhone 4 and 4S is still AWOL, caught up in the Federal Communications Commission’s testing process. Stokols said he still holds out hope that the device will clear those tests soon. That’s probably of little consolation to the customers who pre-ordered the device last May, but Stokols said he’s hoping that a belated approval will clear the path for an iPhone 5 sleeve later this year.

Even without the Sleeve, FreedomPop has been growing rapidly as consumers latch onto its free 500 MB of monthly data and its bandwidth sharing and earning features, as well as its hotspots and iPod Touch sleeve, Stokols said. He wouldn’t reveal exact subscriber numbers saying only the virtual carrier has “hundreds of thousands” of customers. FreedomPop also plans to launch a voice service in the next few months via a partnership with VoIP and IP messaging provider textPlus.