Ever since my wife got her 3G iPad, I had always wanted a reason to get a mobile hotspot. Seeing the convenience of being able to get online anywhere without being stuck on a smartphone or searching for WiFi networks truly seemed like the future. Of course, it made sense for her to have an iPad with 3G, since she uses it for her business all the time. For someone like me, though, that would only use a mobile wireless connection occasionally, it wouldn’t make good financial sense.
So, what’s a guy like me to do, settle for the imperfect WiFi, or find ways to make it work so I can afford a hotspot? Well, I think I may have found a solution that actually gives me what I need. It might just be the solution for you too.
A Good Middle Ground Solution
Last week, a company called FreedomPop opened its doors to the public to test out their new mobile hotspots. Currently, they have two different options you can choose from: a USB dongle that you can connect to your laptop, or a 4G WiFi hotspot which you can connect up to 8 devices at once. Both of these options have 4G coverage which they are “borrowing” off of Sprint’s network. Before you go to purchase, you can see the coverage map and if you are in an area where these can be used. Most major cities will be covered when using these devices, but anything outside of those areas will probably be out of luck.
So what makes these devices so attractive to want to even write about? Well, there are two reasons why I even thought about writing and getting one of these in the first place. One, the fact that these are 4G make them somewhat enticing. With that kind of speed, I can have speeds that are just about as fast as my home WiFi.
Secondly, and in my opinion, the real reason why I was interested in the first place, is the pricing plans they have. You get the first 500mb for free! Now, that is something that got me interested because I wouldn’t be using it all that often and when I needed to, this free plan would be perfect for me. If for any reason I go over my limit, I get charged $.02 per mb that I go over. If the 500mb isn’t enough there are other plans that start at 1gb for $10/month and go all the way up to 10gb for $60/month. When you compare these prices to Verizon and AT&T, Freedompop’s prices are easily cheaper than both companies. What is also nice is that you can earn free MBs by inviting friends or participating in different things to help increase your data.
Where’s The Catch?
That is the very question I was asking myself, thinking there had to be some thing that was making this too good to be true. So I did my due diligence and read more about the service and what other news articles had to say about this and to my surprise I really couldn’t find anything that was going to prove me wrong. The only thing that was different than Verizon and AT&T was the fact that you had to pay in full price for the devices. But, even still, those prices were still decent in that the dongle would cost you $50 and the mobile hotspot was $100. If you ever decided that you didn’t want it any more, you could return the device for a full refund, no questions asked.
Another thing worth noting is that the only “gotcha” option that I found was that you have to pay $2.99/month if you always want the 4G speed, otherwise, it looks like they possibly throttle your speed at times. They make this very clear to you as you are in the process of purchasing your device and plan. Also, it is worth noting that there are no monthly or yearly contract that you need to sign. After learning of all this, I had to take the plunge for myself and see how good this really was.
When I ordered the device, I decided to go with the mobile hotspot because I wanted to use it with more than just my laptop. The first thing I noticed when I opened up the packaging was how small the device actually was. It could fit in the palm of my hand, and I have small hands to begin with! The hotspot is around 2.25 x 2.25 inches and maybe a little over a quarter of an inch think. I didn’t expect such a tiny device, being that all the other mobile hotspots I have seen were at least twice the size of this one.
In my testing, I found that it was really easy to set up, and it took me all of 2 minutes to get it up and running and for me to connect my iPad to it. As I had thought, the 4G speeds on it was blazing fast, and I had no problems with it. I could get about 6-7 hours on a full charge and because I use it so infrequently, it lasted me a while. I had to be within city limits to get good speeds, which was a little disappointing, but for the price, you really can’t complain.
So, what does all of this mean for you and me? First and foremost, it means competition. Maybe not enough to compete with the “big boys”, but with its competitive pricing, I think it can make some waves in the mobile hotspot space. Think of it this way: this option gives the average user the ability to have mobile access when they need it, without putting a huge dent in their wallet.
The majority of people who get the AT&T and Verizon hotspots do so because either they can afford it, or they are business people who need it because they are on the go so much. I get that, and I don’t think that is who FreedomPop is targeting. They want the rest of us, who want the luxury, but may not always need it or be able to afford it.
So, why is this so important? Well, with the rising cost of home internet, I have felt for some time now that there has to be a company out there that is willing to challenge these companies to force them to either be more competitive or rethink their strategy. With cellular data becoming faster and faster each year, I think we are getting closer to that reality of mobile internet competing with the likes of Comcast and other home internet providers. I am not saying FreedomPop is going to be that company, but they are definitely paving the way for this to happen.
All things being considered, mobile hotspots are a luxury for most people. FreedomPop saw that, turned the business around, and made it so that the average consumer can afford to have this luxury and not let it hurt their wallet. I think that is a win for their business as well as a win for the consumer.
People I have been showing it to have been asking me, “Is it worth me getting?” To them my answer is simple. You simply don’t have much to lose with FreedomPop. Since you don’t have to sign a contract, and you get your money back if you return the device, the risk is minimal at best. I would say if you are even thinking twice about it, try it out, get the free plan and see how you use it. Then, after a month or after you use the 500mb, decide whether it is worth it or not.
Don’t get me wrong, FreedomPop is not the best thing since sliced bread, and it won’t be the last company that starts to offer something like this. Whether it be hotspots like this or using our smartphones for data, one way or the other, companies are going to have to start thinking about how everyone is going to get online, even if they can’t afford huge all-you-can-use data packages. What do you guys think? Would you get something like this?
Editor’s Note: FreedomPop’s pricing is quite revolutionary for the US market, but aside from the free base tier, it’s not that unique for most of the world. In Thailand, I bought an unlocked 3G USB dongle for around $30, then got a sim card for it and pay around $30/month prepaid for 5Gb of bandwidth. I could pay far less for smaller amounts of data, and could switch carriers at any time just by switching sim cards. That freedom is rather unheard of in the US, but is the obvious future of mobile, today, around most of the world.