There are a lot of great cell phone service plans on the market right now: T-Mobile’s $30 plan with 100 minutes and unlimited text and data, Ting’s pay-what-you-use service, and Republic Wireless’s “Wi-Fi Hybrid” plan that only runs $19 a month. But you know what’s better than paying less for your cell phone service? Paying nothing.

That’s what a new service called FreedomPop is offering. But of course, there’s a catch.

FreedomPop runs off a freemium business model, meaning it’s providing the service for free, but has premium options and add-ons. The service’s three different plans show what jumping from free to premium can get you:

  • Basic 200: $0/month — 200 minutes, 500 texts, 500MB of 4G/3G data
  • Premium 500: $7.99/month — 500 minutes, unlimited texts, 500MB of 4G/3G data
  • Unlimited: $10.99/month — Unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, 500MB of 4G/3G data

As you can see, FreedomPop’s free service is certainly limited. But the upgraded plans are 3-5 times cheaper than any of the major carriers’ plans. The real problem is, the lack of data will make it really easy for many users to accumulate overage fees, which are $0.01/MB or $10/GB.

Related: Best Unlimited iPhone 5 Plan?

How Does It Work?

While there’s no word of ads before phone calls or spam texts yet, free always makes you wonder what you’re sacrificing. In FreedomPop’s case, the company uses Sprint’s WiMax 4G network to provide all of its services.

“We’re not touching the voice network at all,” FreedomPop VP Tony Miller told TechCrunch. “If we were to go with Sprint’s voice network the cost of the deal would be orders of magnitude higher, and the free plan would between $15 and $20.”

Looking at Sprint’s WiMax coverage map may turn some off completely, as its coverage non-existent outside most major cities and suburbs. This would leave you out of service and out of luck if you planned to travel, due to the fact that there’s no roaming on other carriers’ networks — a feature most service providers offer.

What About Phones?

Because of FreedomPop’s model, you can’t simply bring your own Sprint phone and have it work like you can with Ting’s service. In fact, much like Republic Wireless, you have no choice but to use the one phone they offer. (Republic will be offering the Moto X soon, though.)

FreedomPop’s one phone is the two-year-old HTC Evo Design 4G, which is only being offered refurbished, and comes modified to use data for calls. The good news is, the phone will only run you $99 and you could conceivably use a free texting app and  Wi-Fi friendly service like Skype to make calls, avoiding any additional fees.

Worth It?

If you live in a WiMax-friendly area and are confident that you can work around the service’s limitations, FreedomPop is definitely worth a shot. It probably won’t end up being an ideal provider, but for a low upfront cost you’ll have free (or cheap) cell phone service. The savings from not having a cell phone bill each month will definitely add up over time.

 

Would you use a service like FreedomPop? What are you paying now for cell phone service? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.