30 July 2014

FreedomPopped

In a perfect world we would all have warp-drive wireless internet connections that follow our devices wherever they go and costs us nothing. If the focal point of your concern is the "free" part of that scenario then FreedomPop has you covered.

Back in the geologic iPhone 4 era (aka 2011), FreedomPop opened their virtual doors to customers who want to take advantage of unused bandwidth at carriers and pay nothing or next to nothing. As Clearwire and Sprint let them steal away their buckets of craptastic technology in their corporate dog house and dejected WiMax network, the pops of freedom continued to expand their geographic footprint to lure in more and more customers. They hope that you will be stupid enough to purchase their add-on items including additional data, voicemail, phones and whatever else - or maybe you will become their golden sucker who buys a contract.

Kudos to them for delivering on their free internet connection. Yes, the device might not work at first and you may be spending a half hour on hold with someone from Pakistan to get it working, but I have tested a phone and a cellular wireless access point (WAP) with both delivering on the promise of "no charge". The devices themselves were inexpensive, too, compared to the big four cell carriers. However, you do get what you pay for.

The quality of the WAP was quite good, despite not working initially, though the battery life leaves a little to be desired. The phone, an old HTC device that never should have left the tech graveyard it crawled out of, is good for only a half hour of use before the battery dies along with a laundry list of other problems.

That said - cheap devices and free internet, so no problem, right?

Their network is somewhat limited to what is left of the WiMAX system (depending on device) and that will leave much to be desired. In Alaska it is non-existent. In California and Seattle it is spotty, at best. In Texas it was also hit and miss. If you need this sucker to work in a certain area then you will want to check with them before purchasing because they do not accept returns. Ever. For any reason.

Then there is the network speed. Download speeds are generally fine for basic web browsing or downloading emails. Upload speeds are fine for emails that do not contain attachments. If you are thinking of using this for watching videos or downloading apps - think again. The gerbils running inside their WiMAX routers can barely keep up with animated GIF images.

Where does that leave us? Despite the fact that FreedomPop is a mess compared to even the least expensive pre-paid services, I am very happy they exist. Even nausea-worthy web browsing is better than none at all, and our country needs a "free" option for anyone who cannot afford the thieves at Verizon. As a backup connection in case your primary cell network goes down, this might work. As a device for a son or daughter that only very rarely needs to text you, this freebie might do the trick. If you are very forgiving of tech that runs at 1200 baud modem speed while on the road and live on wireless networks at home and the office, then this is an amazingly inexpensive option.

Unfortunately, for the rest of us, a free FreedomPop connection is just way too expensive for what you get.