FreedomPop partners with Intel to launch Wi-Fi-first smartphone in 2016

Sprint (NYSE: S) MVNO FreedomPop plans to launch a smartphone next year designed for its Wi-Fi-first service in a partnership with Intel. The phone will use Intel's SoFIA chipset platform and be launched on the network of FreedomPop's second U.S. carrier partner, which it plans to unveil in 2016.

FreedomPop has secured strategic financing from Intel Capital, Intel's global investment organization, to expand its FreedomPop branded smartphone lineup. The funds will support the smartphone launch.

In an interview with FierceWireless, FreedomPop CEO Stephen Stokols said the phone will run Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG) Android platform and will be manufactured by a known OEM, which he declined to name. He said FreedomPop will aim to take the "Xiaomi approach" and sell the phone for between $99 and $199 on an unsubsidized basis. The goal he said, is to get it as high-spec as possible but at as low a cost as possible.

Intel's SoFIA platform is designed for entry-level devices and Stokols said it will help lower the device's final costs. Stokols also said "the technology plays perfectly into our product experience."  

Stokols said the SoFIA platform will let the phone switch seamlessly between Wi-Fi and cellular networks and can sense network degradation, so it will switch off of a weak Wi-Fi signal before a call drops, for example. Additionally, the phone's speeds can be controlled at the device level, so FreedomPop will be able to sell "speed boosts" to give customers faster downlink speeds. Stokols also said SoFIA will enable FreedomPop to white-list certain applications at the device level, enabling it to engage in sponsored data agreements without accessing a carrier's server.

Stokols conceded that it's "not too dissimilar to what Motorola has done with Republic Wireless," another Wi-Fi-first MVNO that uses specialized hardware. 

Stokols said FreedomPop "is an ideal showcase" for SoFIA and that "Intel is looking to use this to make a name for itself in mobile." As such, he said, FreedomPop plans to sell the phone around the world.

"We're going to sell the phone in any market we have," he said, which next year will be markets beyond the United States and UK in both Europe and outside of Europe. As a result, the phone will not be designed for Sprint's network since it needs the global reach of GSM.  

"Mobile consumers continue to look for more ways to save on mobile bills, and a Wi-Fi first smartphone allows them to use a more cost-effective network," Sam Spangler, vice president of the platform engineering group and general manager of phones at Intel, said in a statement. "We look forward to working jointly with FreedomPop in improving the customer's Wi-Fi first experience via this new smartphone utilizing FreedomPop's Wi-Fi network."

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