You’ve probably never heard of FreedomPop. To this point, they’ve mostly been notable for trying to give you “free” mobile broadband. But now they’re grabbing attention for a new “free” wireless service. Note the quotes; once you get into the details, it’s not only not free, but has a lot of drawbacks.
FreedomPop offers unlimited free texts, 200 free minutes, and 500 MB of data free, every single month. There are also no contracts, so you can, in theory, walk away at any time. Sound like a good deal? Well, there are a few drawbacks they don’t bring up. A little skepticism shows that this is actually not a great deal.
To be fair, for basic communications, it’s actually a great deal: You can add unlimited minutes for ten bucks a month, so if you’re just looking for something simple, that’s probably the best you’re going to get. Similarly, considering that text messages cost mobile carriers literally nothing whatsoever, having that just thrown in is a nice bonus. If this supports dirt-cheap flip phones, this would be a good option if you want to go tablet for apps and just dump the smartphone altogether.
However, FreedomPop is notably silent on what devices you can use, stating only that there will be “select, popular Android handsets,” and considering the entire pitch is that it’s cheap, that’s unlikely to include anything more recent than the best handsets of 2010. They may offer more recent phones… but it’s unlikely that buying those up front, or paying them off over time, will be a good deal, if they’re offered in the first place.
Data, however, is where FreedomPop really expects to make their money. You can pay $18 a month for 2GB of data, or $29 a month for 4GB. Go over your cap, and you’ll be paying two cents a megabyte if you don’t have a data plan. That may not sound like much, but consider that that math works out to $20 a GB, and that ten minutes on Google Maps will cost you 6MB. The fee is halved if you have a data plan, of course, but that kind of contradicts the whole “free” idea.
Adding to the problem is the network. Eventually, FreedomPop will be in Sprint’s LTE network, but for now it’s on a CDMA and WiMax network. WiMax never really caught on, so it can be hard to find, while CDMA is pretty much everywhere but goes at a snail’s pace. So, essentially, you get what you pay for.
FreedomPop may make sense if you don’t use a lot of data, or don’t use any data, and don’t care about what phone you use. But T-Mobile just abolished contracts, offers the same unlimited talk and text, will let you use whatever phone you want, and throttles data speeds when you cross the 500MB mark instead of nickel-and-diming you. So, really, unless you just don’t like big carriers, it’s likely best to leave the “free” deal on the table.