FreedomPop shows off LTE-capable smartphone case, hopes for year-end launch

LAS VEGAS--MVNO FreedomPop plans to release a smartphone case that can connect to Sprint Nextel's (NYSE:S) EV-DO and LTE networks sometime this year. The case would be tied to a user's smartphone via Wi-Fi, and provides the user with access to FreedomPop services including the company's 500 MB of free data per month and its forthcoming VoIP calling service.

FreedomPop is currently showing off a prototype of its planned LTE-capable smartphone case. The prototype fits an Apple iPhone 4.

FreedomPop CEO Stephen Stokols said the company hopes to release the case sometime later this year, though he said the launch date could get pushed back. He declined to provide a specific price point for the case, but said the company is targeting $99 or below. He said the case will target a top U.S. smartphone like the Apple iPhone or the Samsung Galaxy S4, though the specific device has yet to be determined.

The new smartphone case essentially represents version 2.0 of FreedomPop's WiMAX-capable Sleeve. FreedomPop sells a Sleeve for the Apple iPod touch that pairs with the device through Wi-Fi and connects to Clearwire's (NASDAQ:CLWR) WiMAX network, giving users FreedomPop's signature 500 MB of free data per month and the opportunity to buy additional data and services from the MVNO. The Sleeve also includes a battery pack that can charge the iPod touch. FreedomPop's new case will not include a battery pack, which Stokols said made the Sleeve too bulky for many of FreedomPop's customers.

A prototype of FreedomPop's forthcoming case, which fit an iPhone 4, was noticeably slimmer than FreedomPop's current iPod touch Sleeve.

In an interview with FierceWireless here at the CTIA Wireless2013  trade show, Stokols also offered an update on FreedomPop's business initiatives. He said sales of the company's new Overdrive Pro mobile hotspot, which is the first FreedomPop device to connect to Sprint's EV-DO network and Clearwire's WiMAX network, is outstripping the company's expectations. He said sales of the gadget have reached the "five figure" range, and he said that "organic conversions" on the company's website--the number of people visiting the site and then purchasing service--have increased by a factor of four, which he attributed to the Overdrive Pro's $40 price.

Stokols also said that, in conjunction with the launch of the LTE-capable smartphone case, FreedomPop will ramp up its retail and advertising efforts. In advertising, he said the company hopes to release TV advertisements by year-end; FreedomPop currently conducts most of its advertising via online channels.

As for the company's retail plans, Stokols said that in the third quarter FreedomPop plans to begin selling its devices in smaller retail outlets, and then will expand those sales to larger electronics retailers over the next six months. The company has already inked an agreement with D&H Distributing to handle the distribution portion of its efforts. Stokols said FreedomPop's goal is to eventually get its products into major big box retailers like Walmart and Best Buy.

Finally, Stokols said that FreedomPop remains hopeful that its WiMAX-capable Sleeve for the iPhone will pass through the FCC's testing process. As FierceWireless first reported in January, the iPhone Sleeve has been stuck in the FCC's testing process due to its unique radio-on-radio design, but Stokols said the company hopes the Sleeve will eventually reach customers. However, he acknowledged the device--which has been delayed for more than a year--has missed its window of opportunity and likely won't sell well.

Stokols said that FreedomPop's forthcoming products likely won't run afoul of the FCC's testing process.

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