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FreedomPop has built quite a bit of hype over the past few months for its proposed freemium 4G service — and starting today, we’ll finally get to see if it can live up to its many promises.

The company kicked off a public beta test Sunday, which will offer 500 MBs of free monthly 4G service (provided by Clearwire) on two devices: a wireless hotspot and a USB stick. Both devices are technically available for free, though you’ll have to put down a refundable security deposit of $49 for the USB stick and $89 for the hotspot.  For more data-hungry consumers, FreedomPop is also offering inexpensive monthly plans starting at $17.99 for 2GB of data and $28.99 for 4GB.

You can preorder the Photon wireless hotspot and Bolt USB stick on FreedomPop’s site, and they shipping is on0 on a first-come. first-served basis. The Photon can connect up to eight devices, while the Bolt stick boasts complete plug-and-play capabilities, allowing you to run it on any PC without additional software.


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“We’re really trying to disrupt the industry on all levels, from pricing — carriers are squeezing revenue on a lot of data — all the way to breakage, where they [carriers] make a lot of money,” said FreedomPop CEO Stephen Stokols in an interview with VentureBeat.

Indeed, if FreedomPop delivers, it has the potential to shake up the wireless industry as we know it. The notion of completely free wireless service is unheard of — it’s the sort of thing that could bring people online who would otherwise have no need for a home Internet connection. And unlike free Internet services from the ’90s, you’re not stuck viewing ads, either.

Instead, the company will make money off of its monthly plans (which are cheaper than prepaid wireless competitors), and additional services, like a $2.99 monthly FreedomPop Speed Plus feature that guarantees you the fastest wireless service. FreedomPop has also partnered with around 50 partners, which will grant you additional bandwidth for signing up for their services.

FreedomPop also has a social component: You can earn an additional 10MBs of monthly service per friend you bring to the service (up to 1 GB).

FreedomPop’s long-awaited iPod Touch case and iPhone case should start shipping in late this month/early November, according to Stokols. Both of those devices are available for preorder now for $99, and they’re each intriguing in their own right: The iPod Touch case will practically turn it into an iPhone, and the iPhone 4 case can also extend your phone’s battery life by six hours.

Currently, FreedomPop is relying on Clearwire’s 4G WiMax network for its free service. While faster than typical 3G speeds, WiMax is nowhere near as fast as 4G LTE. Starting next year, the company will show off devices running on Sprint’s upcoming LTE network, Stokols tells me.

Los Angeles-based FreedomPop recently raised $7.5 million in a first round of funding led by ManGrove and DCM.

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