FreedomPop is looking to shake up cellular industry with their free mobile data services. And it needs shook: while customers clamor for more data and less voice minutes (who actually talks on a phone these days?), cellular carriers do the opposite and give out unlimited talk while charging an arm and a leg for restrictive data plans. FreedomPop believes that the internet “is a right, not a privilege”, but some users complain of unexpected charges and spotty coverage which leads some to believe that FreedomPop may be a scam. So what’s the deal with FreedomPop?
Personally, I think FreedomPop is a legit service and I really have no problems with the service. They may be a little aggressive with the upselling, but I understand that they are a business and businesses need a source of income.
My first experience with FreedomPop was last summer with a $30 hotspot offer I saw on a deal website I frequent. I sometimes attend meetings at venues that either don’t have public WiFi, or require software to be installed in order to use the WiFi. Bringing my own WiFi is a lot more convenient, so I jumped on the offer.
Ordering and Setup
Ordering from FreedomPop’s website is fairly straightforward: enter your email and home address, verify coverage, select a device then pay. The next part is the hardest: waiting for your device to ship. As a small company, their logistics are still in development so it can sometimes take 3-4 weeks to receive your device. Some people can understandably be uncomfortable being charged for a device before it ships, especially if it takes weeks.
Once the device arrived, I was surprised to find that everything was already setup. I just put it to charge, powered it up, and it was converting the mobile airwaves to local WiFi in no time. Most of the devices sold by FreedomPop are refurbished, and the hotspot I received had some deep scratches on it. However, since then, I’ve ordered a few other devices and they arrived in really good condition (some looked brand new), so I don’t believe this first order was the norm for the company.
Here’s how FreedomPop’s free plan works for hotspots:
- What’s free: You get 500MB of 4G data for free each month. Most of the hotspots offered by the company use Sprint’s LTE network. With hotspots, 3G service is not included for free, but can be added for $3.99 per month (details below).
- Additional free data: You can earn an additional 500MB each month by adding 10 other FreedomPop customers as “FreedomPop Friends”. You receive 50MB for each friend you connect with. This 50MB bonus automatically repeats each month, so once you have 10 friends, you’re done (you do not need to find 10 more friends each month).
- Even more free data: You can also complete “offers” for small data increments (for example: fill out a long survey for 2MB).
- Overages: By default, FreedomPop will automatically add $10 worth of data to your account once you’ve used 400MB (they leave a 100MB buffer). This $10 gets you an additional 500 MB of data on the free plan. You can turn off this feature in the Billing > Billing Settings section of FreedomPop’s website and your data will instead shut off at 400MB. However, there is a possibility that you can use data faster than Sprint’s network can count, so if you somehow exceed 500MB, you’ll still be charged the $10 top up for additional data.
- Optional service: You can add 3G access to many hotspots (if they have a 3G antennae built in, like the OverDrive models) for $3.99 per month. This can help if you’re able to receive 3G service at your location but not 4G LTE. However, as Sprint expands their 4G LTE network, this may become less of an issue.
- Other plans: FreedomPop’s other plans are very competitive: $16.99 per month for 2GB of data (which includes both 4G and 3G access), and $29.99 per month for 4GB of data (also includes 4G and 3G access).
FreedomPop also recently began offering their own phone service, which can be an awesome deal if you’re like me and use more data than you do voice minutes. Here’s an overview of their voice service:
- Free data: Again, the free plan includes 500MB of data, but interestingly, 3G data is included with the phone plans. Most phones currently being offered are also able to take advantage of Sprint’s faster 4G LTE network.
- Free calls and texts: All phone calls and texts go through the phone’s data connection using FreedomPop’s own VOIP app. This means that you need to keep the FreedomPop app open in the background in order to receive phone calls and texts. One nice aspect of this arrangement is that the data used for voice and texts do not deduct from the 500MB of data you get for free. On the free phone plan, you get 200 minutes of talk and 500 text messages.
- More calls, texts, and data: For $19.99 a month, you get 1GB of data and unlimited minutes and texts. Upgrade to 2GB of high speed data for $24.99/month, orget unlimited voice, texts, and data (1GB at high speed) for the same $24.99 per month.
- Voicemail isn’t free: This may seem a little odd, but voicemail is not included for free. If you want to add voicemail to your service it will cost $2.49 per month.
- Additional services: FreedomPop’s “Premiere Service” is $9.99 per month and includes voicemail, data rollover, usage alerts, a VPN service, and tethering (however, only certain phones – like the Samsung phones FreedomPop offers – are able to tether).
Here are some things to be aware of
- Support options are somewhat slow: While FreedomPop has made some improvements to their customer service, they still favor email support. Some users report long hold times on their support phone number. Personally, I never waited more than 10 minutes for someone to pick up. Email replies have been hit-or-miss for me: sometimes I receive a response the next day, sometimes it can take several days. Their social media support on Facebook and Twitter seems to be a lot quicker.
- They are a business and businesses need to make income: They will try to up-sell you on additional services and free trials, which is understandable for a free service. I don’t find the advertisements obtrusive, but you do need to pay attention to the fine print and read the screens carefully. However, I don’t find it any worse than any other service provider (like my cable company’s constant mailings and website ads).
- Voice quality can be iffy: If you’re using FreedomPop’s phone app, all calls go through the data connection instead of the traditional cellular voice network. If you have a strong 3G or 4G signal, or if you’re on WiFi, voice quality is typically fine. However, if you have a weak signal, you’ll experience breakups, delays, and distortion. You do have the option of adding “Premium Voice” service for $3.99/month, which would service your outgoing calls over the traditional cellular voice network.
Cheat-sheet to the free service
If you’re only interested in the free service, here are the areas of the website where you can deactivate the paid services. If you encounter any issues downgrading your plan, customer service will be able to do it for you if you contact them.
- Automatic Top-up: Disable this under Billing > Bill Settings. You may need to add a $5.00 top-up to your account in order to disable automatic top-ups (FreedomPop claims this is for fraud prevention).
- Downgrade Data Plan: Under My Account > Plans, click the “Details and Plan Management” link near your data plan. Look for a small link that states “To downgrade your plan, click here”. Read the warning messages, and then select the “Downgrade Anyway” option.
- Downgrade Phone Plan (separate for some older accounts): This is basically the same process as the data plan. Under My Account > Plans, click the “Details and Plan Management” link near your phone plan. Look for a small link that states “To downgrade your plan, click here”. Read the warning messages, and then select the “Downgrade Anyway” option.
- Additional Services: Head over to the My Account > Services section of the website and if you see anything listed under “My Services”, use the small deactivation link to remove.
- Services worth keeping: If you have the phone plan, you may want to keep the Visual Voicemail service. Data Rollover is also useful if your data usage varies from month to month.
If you need to get in contact with someone at FreedomPop, here is their contact information.
- Email: FreedomPop Ticketing System
- Phone: (888) 743-8107 (M-F 9am-5pm PDT)
- Forums: FreedomPop Community Forums (forum admins are typically quick to assist)
- Twitter: @FreedomPopHelp
- FAQs: FreedomPop Support
That’s FreedomPop in a nutshell. Overall, it is a great value and I’ve only ever received one erroneous $0.99 charge in the year I’ve had service with them, and FreedomPop quickly refunded the charge when I contacted them. I’m glad to see FreedomPop challenge the high mobile data prices offered by other carriers and provide mobile broadband for minimal costs. If you don’t mind the upselling advertisements and you take the time to read through the screens when you set up your service, you should have no issue with FreedomPop. Heck, I find FreedomPop a lot easier to deal with than my cable company’s surprise charges each month. Or walking on pins and needles for my current cell provider so I don’t lose my unlimited data plan. It is great to see companies like FreedomPop help turn the cellular industry upside down and give customers the mobile data they are asking for at a reasonable cost.
Technically Well’s rating:
Summary: You can’t really complain about a free service, but it may not be for everyone due to the strong up-sells and free trial periods that you may forget to cancel. Phone calls are handled through VOIP which requires a strong signal for good audio quality. However, the newer LTE devices are very fast and coverage is much better, making this service ideal as a second phone, a phone for your kids, or for anyone that wants to save money on their wireless phone bill.
Prices are subject to change. Updated March 2016 to remove WiMax references (Sprint discontinued WiMax in Nov 2015) and to update pricing