FreedomPop launches free WiFi beta, and "transient electronics"

This week a new mobile company, FreedomPop, takes aim at giants AT&T and Verizon by offering free cellphone data.

What if the data used by your Smartphone to browse the web, check email and Facebook and look for nearby restaurants were free?
 
I just checked and I am paying $30 a month for that privilege. Starting this week, an outfit called FreedomPop is letting people connect without charge, if they use only 500 megabytes per month or less. I happen to be on track to use 400 megabytes of data this month on my plan, but I'm not much of a data hog. For instance, I am not trying to stream movies on my phone. But since nothing is free, how does this company propose to make money? By charging people if they use more than that allotment. Here's the CEO Stephen Stokols modestly suggesting that other phone companies are going to be scared. "We are coming after them and they had better get ready for war," Stokols said. 
 
FreedomPop does require a deposit for a thumb-drive-sized device or a separate gadget that turns a cell phone into a mobile WI-FI hotspot. "This is more a story of a market that ripe for disruption," said Susan Crawford, a fellow with Roosevelt Institute in New York. A company that can offer lower prices and more flexible plans is a valuable addition to what she calls "a pretty frozen duopoly," a market divided mainly by Verizon and AT&T.
 
The new competition is FreedomPop, what some refer to as a mobile virtual network operator. Crawford sees them springing up "like weeds through a pretty large sidewalk" laid down by the two big mobile phone companies. 
 
At the moment, FreedomPop's system is set to be quite fast, like many home internet set-ups. But the hope and expectation is to convert to the Sprint LTE mobile phone network next year, which should be faster and have wider coverage.


How about electronics that get implanted in the body during an operation and dissolve when no longer needed? These are "transient circuits" that break down into harmless chemicals might help heal wounds and have other medical uses. This is still early-stage according to an article in the latest edition of the journal "Science."

John Rogers, a materials scientist at the University of Illinois, has been working working on this. He says one idea being tested is a kind of implanted heating pad to that kicks in after surgery. It would be engineered to generate heat to specific areas in the body to make a surgical site hostile to the growth of harmful bacteria. Researchers use a silk protein coating that determines how long the implant lasts before dissolving.
 
Professor Rogers said the technique might be used to deal with increasing levels of electronic waste in our gadget-happy world. This raises the possibility of future phones or music players with biodegradable parts, rigged to melt into benign by products after, say, three years. Sort of like cheap Scandinavian furniture.

About the author

David Brancaccio is the host of Marketplace Morning Report. Follow David on Twitter @DavidBrancaccio

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