FreedomPop – Free 4G Internet

Yesterday, my Freedom Spot – Photon arrived in the mail, and I just thought I’d post a quick review.

FreedomPop is a new-ish service focused on providing free (as in beer) internet access anywhere in their coverage areas. No more hunting down coffeeshops or McDonalds – just bring your hotspot, and you’re good to go! They offer 500 MB free per month, with the ability to pay by the MB after that or upgrade to a bigger plan.

Their freemium model seems a lot like DropBox’s – they expect the majority of their customers to stick with the “free” plans, and pay for everything with the minority premium users. Note that even the free plans do require an upfront “deposit” for the cost of the hotspot/modem, so they might be making some profit here under the assumption that not everyone will return the device.

I already have an iPhone with a data plan, but I’m about to be bumped down to 2 GB per month, so this extra 500 MB could be quite useful. In addition, my iPad doesn’t have 3G or 4G, so my intention is to use this coupled with my iPad or when my iPhone’s data is running low.

Photon Hotspot

When I opened the box, I was amazed at how tiny the hotspot is. In the picture, it is sitting on top of a pad of Post-It notes – it’s really small. It’s got a slightly rubbery feel, but overall, I think it’s a good size and weight.

Operation is quite simple – you turn it on by pressing the power button, wait while it acquires a signal, and then connect over wifi. The default SSID and password are printed right on the bottom of the device, but you can change those after logging in to the management interface, which works very similarly to a normal router.

Of course the first thing I did after connecting to it with my phone was test the speed. I was pleasantly surprised to see speeds that greatly exceeded my typical 3G speeds on my phone: 3.96 Mbps down, and 2.19 Mbps up, with a 106 ms ping time. Not bad for free.

My home happens to be within their coverage areas, so I’m pretty lucky. Unfortunately, here’s where FreedomPop has some work to do: their coverage areas are limited basically to areas that have Sprint 4G service. Cleveland happens to be one of those areas, but their coverage map is mostly blank.

The other issue I’ve noticed so far is coverage inside my place of employment is very spotty. I get a weak signal on the hotspot, and when the signal is weak, the speeds go down significantly. I think this is mainly due to the construction of the building – it’s a very old school building, and I know that the walls here are basically impervious to wifi signals, so I can’t imagine they’re very good for 4G.

However, in newer constructions, or while driving, I think the performance is great, and I look forward to being able to use the internet more easily from my devices without running up my main data plan.

If you’re interested in trying the service out, let me know – also like Dropbox, they’ve got a referral system where people earn extra data for referrals, and who can say no to more free data? 🙂

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