Think there ain't no thing as a free lunch? FreedomPop begs to differ. The startup wireless broadband provider wants to give users in covered areas 500MB/mo. of free 4G service at no cost whatsoever and is accepting sign-ups for its beta test.
Tapping into the service requires the use of either a USB dongle or an eight-device mobile hotspot. FreedomPop offers both for free, but you'll have to pony up refundable deposits for the hardware to the tune of $89 for the "Freedom Spot" and $49 for the "Freedom Stick." The service itself runs on Clearwire's WiMax network and offers download speeds between 4MBps and 10MBps, though the company plans to piggyback on Sprint's burgeoning LTE network sometime next year.
So how does the company make money giving away free wireless broadband? As with Yammer and a host of other freemium services, it's all about the extras. The no-contract, pay-as-you-go service costs $10/GB if you go over the 500MB limit, for one thing, and the company has a lineup of premium hardware offerings planned, including sleeves that add 4G capabilities to the iPod touch and iPhone 4/4S. Both of those are available for preorder and will become available in the next 4 to 6 weeks. You can also pay for services like faster download speeds or data overage warnings.
Perhaps more interestingly, you can earn additional data by performing advertising-focused activities like watching ads, signing up for services or talking friends into signing up, all the way up to a 1GB of free data per month cap.
Interested? You can see if your town is covered by the FreedomPop service and sign up for the beta over at the company's website, but be forewarned; unless you're in or near a major city, ClearWire's service includes a lot of coverage gaps.