I heard about FreedomPop’s new service offering on the radio the other day. Basically, you pay a deposit for a USB or HotSpot device, and they will give you 500mb of free data on that device each month. More data is reasonably priced, and if you ever want to get rid of it, you can send it back and they will refund your deposit. I decided to try it out.
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(Updated 01/07/2013): First of all — if you sign up for freedompop, feel free to add me as a friend for an extra 20MB of free data. I now have two accounts – so send a friend request to both of the following addresses (note that I don’t always check the freedompop home page frequently; if you want to make sure you get your extra data quickly, feel free to comment and ask me to go confirm you.. and yes, the type-o’s in the email separators are intentional, darn spambots):
- freedompop (at) natecarlson *perid* com
- freedompophome (at) natecarlson _dt_ com
In addition, the good people at Slickdeals have set up an email exchange, with a list of tons of other people to invite; details here, or just go directly to the form. Note that you do not need to add the users to your gmail account; instead, on the FreedomPop page, you can go to “Earn Free” -> “Freedom Friends”, and below where it asks for your email address and password, there is an “Invite by Email Address” option, which lets you enter comma-separated email addresses.
Now, to the review..
I decided to try the hotspot, and elected for the overnight shipping ($15 vs $5 for standard shipping.) I also decided to turn on the “FreedomPop Speed Plus” service ($2.99/mo), which according to their site, gives you “up to” 50% faster speeds (up to 12Mbps down and 1.5 Mbps up), prioritizes your data, and guarantees no speed caps or throttling.
The device I got is on Clear’s network (apparently FreedomPop will add support for Sprint’s LTE network in the future), and appears to be identical to Clear’s Clear Spot Voyager, except with some custom firmware. It’s interesting that FreedomPop charges a $89 deposit for a device that is sold to Clear customers for $50. NetZero is also offering cheap 4G service via Clear, and they sell their hotspot for $50.
The setup of the device is simple – turn it on, and connect to it with the SSID and password printed on the back. It’s trivial to change the SSID and password; in addition, if you plug the device into a computer via a MicroUSB cable, it exposes a USB network device, which puts you in the same network as the devices connected via wifi. Nice bonus, as this means with most modern operating systems you can connect it up and use it without needing drivers (it works out of the box on Linux too!) In addition, it supports “standard” NAT gateway features — you can set up static DHCP leases for certain devices, set up port forwards to an internal device (the device does get a public IPv4 address on the WAN side, hurray!), etc. When it is connected to a computer via USB, you can also elect to turn off the wifi connection, or leave it on to share with others. I validated that they allow incoming connections too — port forwarded the SSH port to my laptop, and then SSH’d to a machine on the internet, then back to the hotspot’s public IP. I have read that port 80 won’t work – so don’t plan on hosting a web server behind one of these.
Performance is actually better than what I expected. With my first round of testing at my office, my download speeds were generally between 8-11mbit and my upload speeds were between 1375kbps and 1511kbps. This is just south of downtown St. Paul (MN), with full signal strength.
With my testing so far, I’d certainly recommend this service. It’s cheap, works well, and if you want a real 4G service plan, they are less than the mobile carrier’s alternatives. The one big downside is that this does only work on Clear’s WiMax network — there is no 3G/2G network as backup if you get out of the coverage area. So, check the FreedomPop coverage map and make sure they cover the areas you would like to use it.
I do plan on testing out the USB version of this service; it seems like it’d make a great backup for my cable connection at home — as long as I ensure that streaming services are blocked when it is in use, don’t want to have the Roku streaming a bunch of stuff off Amazon Instant Video and run up hundreds of dollars in bandwidth bills!
(Updated 2013-01-07): I ordered one of the USB devices shortly after I posted this review. It works just as well as the hotspot version – and additionally lets you pass the public IP straight through to the device. Unfortunately, my primary use location for the USB stick (as a backup for my home connectivity, which would mean plugged into a server in my basement) doesn’t get a signal at all (on either the hotspot or USB stick).. however, it would be pretty easy to route a small antenna outdoors from that location; if I get ambitious I might try it in the future. ;) If you’re a laptop-only use who wants mobile data, and don’t want to deal with another device with its own battery/etc, the USB route should work just fine for you!
Some other notes:
- I’ve received the same public IP address every time I’ve used the device. I don’t know if this means that it is static, or if they use DHCP with a reasonable lease time.
- I left the hotspot turned on and sitting on my dashboard for my drive home. I noticed that whenever I was driving over 50mph or so, the connection seemed to drop.. however, when there was traffic and I had to slow down, and when I got off the highway, it kept a connection fairly consistently. Could be the area I was driving, or it could be that the tower handoff isn’t fast enough to handle moving that quickly.
- The signal strength can vary greatly – in one of my tests, I was on one end of a McDonald’s parking lot, and got 1-2 bars. On the other end of the parking lot, it was a steady 3 bars of coverage. I suspect this is because of the higher frequencies that WiMax uses (compared to GSM networks.)
- Latency is acceptable, unless you are maxing out the upstream. If you are going to try to use latency-sensitive services over this network connection, you will probably want to hack in a traffic shaper at some point to guarantee you don’t peg the link. Here is an example mtr report while just doing some web surfing over this device:
..and here is the mtr while speedtest.net was in the upload portion:
I did some additional speed testing last night and this morning; here are a bunch of tests with different signal strengths/etc:
- My house in Savage, MN. 2 bars of signal strength.
- W. 125th Street, Savage MN, between Joppa and Lynn. 5 bars of signal strength.
- W. 125th Street, Savage, MN, at Glenhurst Ave. 2 bars of signal strength.
- Burnsville McDonalds; north end of parking lot. Between 1 and 2 bars.
- Burnsville McDonalds; south end of parking lot. 3 bars.
- Burnsville Cub Foods parking lot. 3 bars.
- From my office in St. Paul, 5 bars. From a laptop over USB instead of a phone over wifi.