FreedomPop intros data-sharing service - but iPhone Sleeve is still MIA

MVNO FreedomPop announced a new service that will allow its users to share data. The offering puts a new twist on the shared data plans from Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) and AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) by allowing FreedomPop users to give their unused data to any other friends or family members who use the company's service.

"Today, users pay a big fee each month for a fixed data plan. The hidden secret in the wireless industry is that 80 percent of users consume less than the amount they are paying for each month and the rest goes to waste or AT&T's bottom line," said Stephen Stokols, FreedomPop's CEO. "If I need more data this month while my friend doesn't, I should be able to share it and vice versa."

In an interview with FierceWireless, Stokols said FreedomPop customers can use Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), Twitter or email contacts to find friends and family using FreedomPop, and once they connect through FreedomPop they can see how much data each of their connections has left. FreedomPop users can then either give their excess data to their connections, or can request extra data from their connections. (In a related announcement, FreedomPop said users will now receive 50 MB per user they refer to the service, up from the 10 MB they previously received.)

FreedomPop users can log into their accounts via a desktop computer, above, or on the company's smartphone app to see how much capacity their friends and family have, and either ask for additional capacity or give out their excess data.

FreedomPop's sharing setup is much different from the shared data plans offered by AT&T and Verizon, which pool data among families or members of the same account.

As part of its shared-data announcement, FreedomPop released a handful of metrics about its progress so far. The company said it has given away more than 2 million MB to users for adding friends since it launched last year. The company also said that, on average, each of its subscribers has invited 15 friends to join FreedomPop. Finally, the company said 99 percent of its registrations are driven by organic traffic instead of advertising, which the company said validates the "viral appeal" of its service.

In comments to FierceWireless, Stokols also offered an update on several aspects of FreedomPop's business. First, he said the MVNO's WiMAX-capable iPhone Sleeve is still stuck in testing at the FCC. FierceWireless reported in January that FreedomPop's iPhone Sleeve had been delayed due to testing requirements by the FCC. The Sleeve's WiMAX radio is right next to the iPhone's cellular radio, and since the FCC has never tested a device with that radio-against-radio design, the agency required extensive testing of the gadget.

Stokols said the FCC now wants to test how the gadget performs with the iPhone's cellular radio turned off--a modification that requires Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) engineers, or engineers who can hack into the iPhone, to implement. He said FreedomPop continues to work to complete the FCC's testing.

Stokols also said FreedomPop has "slightly delayed" its plans to launch LTE service on Sprint Nextel's (NYSE:S) LTE network. In January Stokols said FreedomPop planned to launch LTE service on Sprint's network in the second quarter of this year, but now that launch is tentatively scheduled for the third quarter. Stokols blamed the delay on Sprint's LTE rollout schedule, which he said won't reach a suitable coverage area until the third quarter. However, he cautioned the situation could change, especially if Softbank's proposed $20.1 billion investment in Sprint is approved--thus giving Sprint extra cash to accelerate its LTE rollout.

As for FreedomPop's plans to launch voice calling and messaging services, Stokols said that will likely happen in April. FreedomPop in January announced a deal with textPlus to offer VoIP calling and messaging services.

In other FreedomPop news, the MVNO announced it raised $4.3 million from existing investors, DCM and Mangrove Capital, bringing its total venture capital funding to $11.2 million.

For more:
- see this release

Related Articles:
Report: FreedomPop to launch 'LTE clip' for iPad, Android tablets
In wireless, what is the conversion rate from free to paid?
FreedomPop's iPhone Sleeve stuck in FCC certification, costing $550,000
FreedomPop gives away 1 GB per month for in-home broadband service
MVNO FreedomPop launches freemium mobile WiMAX service via Clearwire