I received a very cool birthday present yesterday – my previously ordered Netgear Mingle hotspot from a company that is still rather new and unheard of in the U.S. called FreedomPop.
FreedomPop is a prepaid 4g data carrier that uses Sprint’s towers. What makes FreedomPop special is that it’s the only data carrier that allows its customers to earn free data through completing offers and making referrals. There is also a data sharing program that allows your friends to share their excess data with you.
FreedomPop is basically a carrier that makes 4g hotspotting and data affordable for everyone. Cell phone service and 4g only service are both available through their plans.
I currently am residing somewhere I cannot easily obtain normal home broadband service. After firing up my ClearSpot hotspot device only to find out my grandfathered account is no longer valid with Sprint, I started researching hotspot plans and this was the most affordable option I came across, not so much due to plan pricing but due to the free data options and the low entry cost from FreedomPop relying on refurbished equipment.
The whole setup is strangely reminiscent of the “free dial up” days (remember NetZero’s service?), only improved with the option of earning or purchasing more data once your current allotment runs out. If nothing else, FreedomPop’s very existence is a very good indicator that we may be looking forward to a future with 4g being a major home broadband option, just like NetZero’s free service preceded the dial up internet explosion and unlimited data with that.
Ok, so let’s go back to my review of FreedomPop. 🙂
The Netgear Mingle I received was a painfully obvious Virgin Mobile refurb, spray painted black to cover up the labeling on the device and packed simplistically in a brown box with a charger and no manual. When switched on, it still has the Virgin Mobile boot and home screens. I had a difficult time finding the FreedomPop instructions on how to connect, but once I did find the instructions with the initial WiFi password, it was smooth sailing. I navigated to my default gateway (192.168.1.1, the default for most DHCP gateways) and was pleasantly surprised to see that while the screen on the device still showed Virgin Mobile, the actual firmware had been completely redesigned to compliment FreedomPop’s service.
I purchased the hotspot for around $40 during a promotion for new customers. I also received the first month’s 2gb plan free (which I plan to upgrade), the first month of their “Premium” add-on with various features like rollover minutes, enhanced security, etc) and earned an additional 250mb free before the hotspot arrived by installing their Android software (200mb) and adding a “Freedom Friend” (each friend that also uses their service is worth 50mb free every month for both friends).
My previous experience in using a hotspot for home broadband includes the aforementioned ClearSpot (which was only $50/month for unlimited data but used the very shaky WiMax network, so getting a good signal was a HUGE pain) and more recently, Sprint (and I really was NOT happy paying $50 for 6GB of data, with the option of obtaining more for outrageous overage fees). I was rather concerned that the FreedomPop service would be annoyingly slow since it’s working off Sprint, but it is quite comparable to my Sprint service so far, surprisingly.
Most surprising of all though is that the FreedomPop service seems to make more efficient use of my bandwidth than Sprint does. I’m not really sure how this works, but I would love to know.
I have no complaints about the Netgear Mingle, even though to my understanding lots of folks have experienced issues with them getting stuck in restarting loops and not connecting with the nearby tower. Maybe it’s because I live in a VERY good coverage area, or I might have just gotten lucky.
Overall, I’m very pleased with the service so far. The only major complaint I have is that it took almost a month for my hotspot to arrive since evidently this is a small company that is overwhelmed with new signups.