FreedomPop’s Free Mobile Data Plans: What You Need to Know

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FreedomPop via YouTube

A new company called FreedomPop is offering something that seems too good to be true: 500 MB of free mobile data per month through your choice of a wireless hotspot or USB stick.

The service, which was announced last December, launched in beta this week. You’ll need a credit card to put a deposit down on the hardware, but the fee is refunded if you send it back and cancel the service. You can check availability in your area and order a broadband device now through FreedomPop’s website.

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That all sounds pretty great, but there are some things you should know before jumping on board. Below, I’ll go over the basics and point out some important caveats as well.

What’s the free data good for?

FreedomPop offers a USB stick for a $49 deposit, or a portable hotspot for $89, both refundable minus the cost of shipping. The stick plugs into any PC or Mac, so it’s a good option if you’re often out and about with a laptop and there’s no Wi-Fi around. The hotspot provides wireless data for up to eight Wi-Fi-enabled devices at a time, so it makes more sense if you’ve got tablets or portable gaming devices to connect. Just keep in mind that it only gets about six hours on a charge.

FreedomPop is also taking pre-orders on sleeves for the fourth-generation iPod Touch, iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S. These sleeves do not provide voice or text service (though you can use VoIP services such as Skype). They simply work the same way as the portable hotspot, providing data for up to eight devices, including the iPhone or iPod itself.

Where does the data come from and where does it work?

FreedomPop piggybacks on Sprint’s 3G network and Clearwire’s 4G WiMax networks, but doesn’t offer nationwide coverage. Instead, coverage is available in 71 markets.

FreedomPop claims to offer 4G data speeds, but until 4G LTE becomes available next year, the network relies on the slower WiMax standard instead. Even then, the fastest speeds are only available to users who pay $3 per month for a speed boost. Free users get throttled.

How does the 500 MB data cap work?

Free users get 500 MB of data per month, and must pay 2 cents per MB for any extra data used. By default, FreedomPop charges $10 worth of credit when you get within 100 MB of your limit, which the company says is to ensure continued service. Users can turn off auto-charging in the account settings.

Users can refer friends to the service, and earn 10 MB per month for each friend who signs up, up to 500 MB total. However, the extra data only works while friends remain signed up. FreedomPop will also offer free data through promotional offers, so users can get more data by watching video ads, filling out surveys or joining e-mail lists.

Paid data services are available, starting at $10 per month for 1 GB, and going up to $60 per month for 10 GB. For those plans, overage charges drop down to 1 cent per MB.

Are there any ads or other funny business?

The service is ad-free, but as mentioned above, users can earn more data through promotional offers which may involve the exchange of personal information. For example, if a restaurant chain offers 20 MB of data in exchange for joining their e-mail list, that company gets to have your e-mail address for marketing purposes. That’s why FreedomPop’s privacy policy reserves the right to provide your personal information to third parties.

The company tells me that if you don’t participate in any of these offers, your personal information won’t be shared. Also, you can opt out of seeing promotional offers altogether through FreedomPop’s account settings.

Are there any other services like FreedomPop?

Remember NetZero, the company that offered free, ad-supported dial-up Internet in the 1990s? Earlier this year, the company started offering 200 MB per month of free mobile data, but with some caveats: The free service is only good for a year, you have to buy the USB stick or hotspot outright, and there’s no way to get extra data besides permanently switching to a paid monthly plan. However, there are no speed limits on NetZero’s free offering.

How well does FreedomPop work in the real world?

Not sure yet. I’ve ordered a mobile hotspot and will post some impressions after I’ve had some time with it.

MORE: Ask Techland: What’s the Deal with 4G?

10 comments
billcondie
billcondie

The hot spot doesn't work for me.

I'm trying to return it, but no reply to email after four days

grenadetrade
grenadetrade

Been waiting for the iphone sleeve for three months (10/2012). Just found out that they CHARGED me $99 already for the deposit, even though the item has not been shipped (and don't know when it will ever be). I don't know about you but preorders put you ahead of the line when the product becomes available and only to be charged when the product is delivered. They also charged me $18 on my Photon (which i ordered because i got sick of waiting for the sleeve) even though i was on the free service and i'm still waiting to get credit for that. It's questionable if FreedomPop is just incompetent or they're trying to hold on to your money as long as possible citing these supposed errors, or down the road if they're just gonna disappear with your deposits when they go under. Either way, i'm gonna minimize my exposure with them as much as possible; i have the Photon with the $105 deposit, and i'm gonna cancel the iphone sleeve "preorder" until they show me that they actually can deliver what they've been promoting.

ecdiet
ecdiet

The $49 or $99 refundable deposits are somewhat misleading. (A) you
are responsible to pay shipping both ways to receive and return he
product (B) if you decided to keep the device after one year, the
"refundable deposit" is no longer available because in their FAQ
section, they say that if you have been using it for over one year, then
it is their understanding that you are happy with their service and the
"refundable deposit" is no longer a deposit and you can not get a
refund after 12 months of usage!!!   

Sounds very much like the carriers offering UNLIMITED DATA
but there is a CAP of up to 5GB.I understand there are costs associating with the
hardware but this one-year usage condition is not disclosed as part of
the "Free Data" and "Refundable Deposit" baits.  Your actual cost comes
down to about $9 a month for 500MB of data monthly, assuming you don't
go over the monthly 500MB threshold. If you use the $99 device for ten months and return the unit, your monthly cost will be around $1.50 a month.


DavidPellei
DavidPellei

Just received my FreedomPop Photon hot spot yesterday.  Watched and Amazon streaming movie and was surprised to find I used 2.02Gb between 7 and 9 PM last night in doing so--and was charged an additional $40.

Maybe it's not meant for movies?  I have a hard time understanding what you would use it for.  Maybe turn it on, check email, and turn it off fast?

I am guessing this puppy will be going back in the mail tomorrow.

MinicooperRocketmail
MinicooperRocketmail

Something else to be aware of, I participated in two free mob offers. Didn't receive the credits, been working with freedom pop customer service and radium one. The missing mob say to cut and paste the text of the email response you receive from the participating offer. RadiumOne email goes to spam, and their response is you didn't provide valid proof. You need to send a PNGor jpg of the completed offer. You provide them that and they send you an email that you need to resubmit another missing mb email and they closed your inquey. What a sham!

jb82
jb82

Couple of things - i've got the mobile hotspot on the free service and well I can get up to 6mb down and 1mb up and I am not in a major city (45 mins out).  That is pretty sweet for free. 

The $10 auto charge can be turned off but when I did there came up an error message saying my service cannot continue without it.  So I guess it is mandatory if you have $0 balance in the account.

Basically if you need a fall back/ use only a modest amount of data eg email and some web browsing and you don't get lured into paying for extras this service is actually nice.  Better than say the 200mb a month ipad plan for $25. 

bibleverse1
bibleverse1

These services are convoluted. Id honestly like to save the money but its a bit of a hassle.

elvey
elvey

@grenadetrade  : Were you able to cancel that preorder? @OneJaredNewman : I placed a preorder and found out that FreedomPop doesn't consider the $99 for the Sleeve Rocket a deposit.  Rather, since trying to return it (after less than a year) I am being told it's non-refundable and non-returnable.  Talk about bait and switch!!! I filed a BBB complaint!

MinicooperRocketmail
MinicooperRocketmail

@DavidPellei sorry you had a bad experience. Streaming music and videos and uploading or downloading pdfs or jpg pictures is a data hog. So the 500mb or 1G plan is for light every day emails or Google searching.