While Apple’s new LTE-capable iPad launched on AT&T and Verizon last Friday, NetZero announced today a new contract-free 4G-hotspot service that provides consumers with another option for data. You might remember NetZero from its ad-supported freemium dialup service in the 90s. The new service will also provide a free plan that offers users up to 200MB of data per month at no charge.
First you will have to buy one of NetZero’s reasonably priced hardware options: The service is offering a $50 4G modem for your Mac, or a $100 4G hotspot that supports up to eight Wi-Fi devices within 150 feet.
As for the plans, the company is obviously hoping to lure consumers with the free 200MB per month option, which is not ad-supported this time around. The free plans will only last for a year, and if you happen to upgrade to a paid plan for one month, you will not be able to switch back to the free option. The paid plans are comparable to LTE iPad data plans from AT&T and slightly more expensive than Verizon in some cases, starting at $10 for 500 MB and up to $50 for 4GB/monthly. The press release said its 4G service offers speeds up to 10Mbps down and 1.5Mbps up.
In case you are wondering about coverage, the Associated Press noted NetZero’s parent company United Online operates on Clearwire Corp.’s network—the same as Sprint. The company’s press release only mentioned New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Miami, but said the service would launch in 80 cities. AP points to a few issues with the network:
Clearwire’s network has a few problems: it’s based on a broadband technology that the rest of the industry has bypassed, which means the selection of compatible devices is limited. Because of the frequency it uses, the signal has difficulty penetrating into buildings. Both Sprint and the cable companies used Sprint’s slower cellular data network as a fallback option, but NetZero’s devices rely only on Clearwire, which means coverage at decent signal strength may be spotty. Clearwire has stopped investing in this network and is instead raising money for a new network that uses the industry-standard “LTE” technology.
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