Clearwire Pacts With Free-Broadband Startup FreedomPop

With the FCC blocking LightSquared's terrestrial network plans, FreedomPop -- a startup that promises to launch free broadband access to U.S. consumers this year -- has entered into a wholesale agreement for 4G wireless services with Clearwire.

FreedomPop is backed by Skype and Joost co-founder Niklas Zennström. Specific terms of the agreement were not disclosed, except that FreedomPop will pay wholesale rates for access to Clearwire's 4G network.

In December, FreedomPop announced an agreement with LightSquared, which had been planning to build out a nationwide satellite/LTE wireless network. On Tuesday, the FCC said it would revoke its conditional approval of LightSquared's planned terrestrial 4G cellular network.

FreedomPop expects to launch service in the second half of 2012. The startup previously has described its business model as similar to that of Dropbox, the online storage service. Dropbox offers up to 2 Gigabytes for free, and sells access to additional storage for a monthly fee in different tiers.

"FreedomPop's ultimate goal of providing our customers with a free mobile broadband alternative will soon be realized thanks to Clearwire's proven 4G network services," FreedomPop vice president of marketing Tony Miller said in a statement. "This agreement enables FreedomPop to offer a disruptive retail service, providing free, flexible, high-speed internet access to millions of Americans."

Clearwire is majority owned by Sprint Nextel, with investments from Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks, Intel Capital and Google. The service operates a 4G WiMax mobile broadband network covering more than 130 million people in the U.S., and Clearwire plans to overlay that with LTE to provide faster speeds.

"Enabling innovative 4G business models with our mobile broadband network is a key part of Clearwire's wholesale business strategy," Clearwire senior vice president of wholesale Don Stroberg said in a statement. "FreedomPop represents the kind of disruptive service model that will shake up the exploding wireless broadband market."

The MSOs backing Clearwire had been reselling its services, marketed as an extension of cable broadband service. But that arrangement is coming to an end, after Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Bright House entered into a deal with Verizon Wireless. In that deal, the cable companies -- which also include Cox Communications -- are proposing to sell Advanced Wireless Spectrum to the carrier, and the MSOs and Verizon Wireless will co-market each other's products.