FreedomPop, the startup that is stirring up the world of mobile carriers with free phone services, is announcing two new advances that will help the company spread its brand to new demographics and new geographies. The company is kicking off the commercial launch of its service outside of the U.S. — in the UK, where CEO and co-founder Stephen Stokols says that 250,000 people have already signed up on a waiting list. And to coincide with Apple’s launch of its new iPhone models, it is unveiling new free and low-cost iPhone plans in the U.S.
The expansions come at the same time that FreedomPop is raising money yet again, and also gearing up to announce a strategic partnership with a vendor that was a part of a recent round but chose to remain unnamed until their joint service launches later this year as a rival to Google Fi.
“It is a strategic financing that we’d like to do in the next couple of months, and it will be somewhere between $50 million and $100 million,” Stokols told TechCrunch. “When you start to talk to strategics it becomes a different conversation,” he said in reference to the size of the round.
The UK launch comes on the heels of testing the service over the summer. For those who are not familiar with FreedomPop, the carrier does not use its own network, but instead partners with others to pick up capacity, using an innovative platform to buy and use connectivity on demand instead of in bulk like regular ‘virtual’ operators.
In the case of the UK service, FreedomPop is first partnering with Hutchison Whampoa’s Three to provide network connectivity, as well as with another company providing integration services. Stokols says that it is talking with another carrier to add its network into the mix, along with a likely tie-up to offload data to WiFi-based broadband connectivity as well.
For now, the UK plans will remain SIM-only but Stokols says that eventually FreedomPop will add devices, too.
The iPhone plans, meanwhile, will launch today in the U.S. first and will come in two tiers. The company says that any iPhone 6 or 6S user that activates a device with FreedomPop will automatically get 500 MBs, 500 texts and 200 voice minutes each month free.
Those who are using more can also sign up for a $18/month plan that gives them 1GB of data and the first month free. This represents a huge discount on the typical price for an iPhone plan in the U.S., which typically can cost between $40 and $60 for the lowest-cost services.
While these plans are for people bringing their own phones to the network, FreedomPop is also going to start selling the iPhone 6S to users in October.
This is a significant move for FreedomPop because the carrier today has very few iPhone users on its network today, with the carrier’s free services largely targeting and winning over customers who are not likely to pay premiums for Apple’s devices. Stokols says the company’s main user is “generally in the under-$125k demographic.”
“Right now the iPhone is under 20% on the network,” Stokols says, “which is pretty low and is part of the reason why we’re excited to see Apple moving in a more agnostic direction with respect to how its targeting a wider range of users with financing services.”
Stokols points out that there will be some new services as part of the UK offering that are new to FreedomPop but that the carrier plans also to expand to other markets like the U.S. over time. They include the option to have a second number — speaking to the demand in the UK for second numbers from many people, for example covering a different geography so that they can have cheaper calls in a region they phone regularly.
And it will also have an “offerwall”, where FreedomPop will list various promotions that will “gift” users extra airtime or data in exchange for different actions, like watching ads or downloading apps. For this it will work with partners like Tapjoy to provide the offers.
“Cheapskates will be able to get by on as little as they can,” he says of the offerwall product.
Users will also be able to share data with friends, so that if you are low on data you can request some from a friend who has more. “We’ve been playing with it in the U.S. for hotspot users but it will roll out first in the UK and very soon after in the U.S.”
Down the road, the unnamed strategic partner that participated in FreedomPop’s round announced in June of this year is going to “be a big part of our device strategy” both in the UK and elsewhere is likely to be announcd in November, he says. Stokols is fairly tight-lipped on what this will entail but characterises it as a competitor to Google Fi.