French wireless carrier offers perfect 'dumb pipe' plans

Here in the U.S., we're used to getting continually screwed over by our wireless providers. High cost for minimum performance and features is just the name of the game, take it or leave it. A new wireless provider in France has started offering an alternative, in the form of a "dumb pipe" that gives you everything you're getting now and more for just $25 a month.

Free Mobile launched in France just three months ago, and already the company has racked up three million subscribers. The reason is simple: you get unlimited voice, unlimited text, unlimited international calling to a bunch of countries (including the U.S.), three gigs of 3G data before a fair use throttle kicks in, unlimited Wi-Fi hotspot access over a huge urban network of five million access points, and unlimited free tethering. All this for $25 per month without a contract.

How do they manage this? Well, you may have noticed that companies such as AT&T and Verizon are constantly trying to steal customers from one another through massive advertising campaigns, and that costs money. Every month, you're helping pay for all those ads, and it's driving up the cost of your service without giving you anything in return. Free, on the other hand, barely advertises at all, saving everybody money and being far less annoying.

The biggest reason that Free is so cheap, though, is that it doesn't subsidize phones. If you use Free's service, you can buy a phone from the company straight up, but you're not going to get a cheap or free subsidized iPhone every few years. Instead, you can use any phone you want that accepts SIM cards. You might feel like this is a bit of a let-down, but it really isn't: when a wireless carrier subsidizes your phone, you're still paying for it, it's just folded into the cost of the plan. This means that you effectively keep on paying for it forever. Also, it means that your choices of phones are limited to those that your particular carrier wants to support. Without the subsidy, you can buy any phone at all, and if you spread the cost out over a period of 24 months (like you would on a subsidized plan), you're still probably going to come out ahead.

Essentially, Free Mobile is offering a "dumb pipe" for wireless. There's no marketing, no tie-ins, no proprietary apps — it's just a reliable and low cost way to get your phone to do what you want it to do. Instead of trying to add value or whatever by getting all up in your business as much as they possibly can, Free is content to just sit back and offer good wireless service for dirt cheap and nothing else. This is the way all wireless plans should be, and while Free's offer isn't quite enough to convince me to actually move to France, it's damn close.

Free Wireless, via Forbes and GigaOM

For the latest tech stories, follow DVICE on Twitter
at @dvice or find us on Facebook