Is FreedomPop's free Internet offer too good to be true?

The FreedomPop Photon

I work from home (take that, Marissa Mayer!) and so having an Internet connection is very important for me. No net, no work, no pay. The cable company servicing my area is Time Warner Cable and frankly, I don't have a lot of trust in them. My connection blips out more often than I'd like and rebooting the cable modem is a much too common occurence.

So when FreedomPop sent me a marketing email offering me free Internet, I was curious but skeptical. It turned out I was right to be; they were offering "1 GB Free" and then in tiny text "for the first month." $17.99/month after. (I'm happy to say they're a lot more forthcoming about this plan now.)

But they do have a plan that gives you 500 MB/month for free. That's enough to get me through most emergencies, and I'm sure FreedomPop would be happy to bump me up to a paid tier at a moment's notice (or I can pay 2 cents/MB after the first 500).

There's still a bit of a catch; you need to put a 'deposit' down on some kind of hardware. I chose the Freedom Spot - Photon which is currently $89. In theory I should get that money back when I cancel the service but I haven't tested that yet. There's also a USB stick that's only $39 and a iPod 4 case/hotspot for $99. I went with the Photon so I can get tablets and stuff online without having a PC handy. It's supposed to support up to eight devices at a time.

The Photon can be used anywhere (that there is coverage); it's a rechargeable hotspot (specs say it'll run 6 hours on a charge) that fits easily in the palm of my hand. Speeds aren't great: Speedtest.net tells me I'm getting about 1.25 mbps down and .88 mbps up. FreedomPop has an upsell for faster speeds for about $4/month; download speeds up to 12 mbps they say. If you're getting the idea that FreedomPop is constantly trying to tempt you with paid offers, you're correct, but I suppose that's understandable.

Aside from that slight issue, so far I've been pretty happy with FreedomPop, though I have to admit I've mostly just been 'testing' the service. I opened the box, turned on the Photon and my laptop connected right to it, simple as that (SSID and network security key are printed on the back of the device). You can log into the Photon (http://192.168.1.1, default password: admin) to tweak settings and I'd suggest changing that security key since the default is "freedompop" and you probably don't want that shifty guy at the next table sucking up your 500 MBs of bandwidth while you're sipping your latte at the local coffee shop.

The reason I'm talking about FreedomPop today is that as of yesterday they're offering Home Internet. Using their Home Internet package you can get 1 GB/month free, with up at 1.5 mbps download speeds. For most households this is still 'emergency Internet' territory but they do advertise a package that's $18.99/month and gives you 10 GB/month at up to 8 mbps. I'd blow through that in a weekend (if not a day) but for casual users it could be a viable primary Internet connection.

FreedomPop's Home Internet also has that same "up to 12 mbps for $4/month" upsell option and once again, you have to shell out $89 for the hardware.

At this point I'm debating whether I should return the Photon and go for the Home Internet option. It's nice that I can tuck the Photon into my pocket and take it to the park or wherever; I don't have mobile hotspot service on my phone any longer. But the Home Internet option gives you twice as much bandwidth and slightly faster speeds. I'll probably take the path of least resistance and just stick with what I have.

I really thought FreedomPop was too good to be true, but (assuming you're willing to shell out that initial outlay for the hardware) so far they've made good with their promise of 'free Internet' and it's nice to know I have a backup for when (note I didn't say "if") Time Warner Cable's Internet service goes down.

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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