Here’s another potential way to cut those monthly expenses. FreedomPop is a start-up offering wireless 4G data service with a free basic plan including 500 megabytes data per month. You can earn more free data by referring your friends or doing things like product surveys or trials. No contracts, no cancellation fees, no ads. Otherwise, small overages will cost $0.02 per MB and bulk plans start from 1 GB for $10 per month. More details:
- 4G Coverage details. The service is currently based on being an MVNO of the Clearwire WiMAX 4G network which has a coverage area of about 1/3rd of the US. There are stated plans to use Sprint’s 4G LTE network plus their 3G network as a fallback in 2013.
- You’ll need a WiMAX modem, currently available as a USB modem stick or mobile WiFi hotspot “hockey puck”. The modems are “free” with a $49/$89 refundable security deposit and $5 shipping. Alternatively, you can pre-order a iPhone 4/4S or iPod Touch sleeve for $99 which won’t add much bulk.
- No per-household limit. Based on media interviews, they are okay with households getting multiple devices each with their own free 500 MB allotment.
- Fees and Upsells. They say no gotchas, but… they want $3 a month for “Speed Plus” which removes any data throttling. Usage alerts? Another $2 a month. If your account balance falls below $2 and you’re within 100 MB of your limit, it will automatically “top-up” with a $10 charge (you can turn this off in your billing settings). If you don’t use the service that month (less than 5 megabytes) they will charge you a $0.99 inactivity fee.
500 MB per month likely isn’t enough to replace your broadband internet connection, but it could definitely improve your cell phone bill. Brainstorming the various ways you could use FreedomPop to lower your monthly phone costs…
If you already pay for data, you could use this service and downgrade your current plan. If you only have a cheap basic cell phone plan for under $10 a month, now you can supplement any smartphone with free data. You could even turn an iPod Touch into a smartphone with no monthly costs at all by using Facetime, Skype, Google Voice, or other free VoIP services like the Vonage Mobile app. There are even rumors FreedomPop may start their own VoIP client. As a rough rule-of-thumb, a Skype-to-mobile/landline runs about 1 MB per minute. I’d still try and use WiFi or text messages when possible.
Looking at our billing history, I use around 1 GB a month and my wife uses only 300 MB a month. I think if I actually paid attention, I could stay under the free limits. However, I’m not sure I like the vibe of this company as their business model seems to be to advertise a completely free service but nickel-and-dime you into paying at least a few bucks per month. Once our contract is over, I don’t know if I’d rather deal with this or just switch to a Straight Talk $45 Unlimited prepaid plan with a used iPhone. But the upfront commitment is small, so I may try it out.
By Jonathan Ping | Frugal Living | 10/4/12, 3:00am