Oh How I Loathe thee, FreedomPop

The MVNO that couldn’t just pulled another boner…

photo (1)Four years ago (WOW! Has it really been THAT long??), I wrote an article on getting free mobile broadband if you lived in the United States. FreedomPop was all the rage back in the day, giving anyone who signed up for their $50 – $100 hotspot hardware access to 500MB per month of free, unrestricted, untrottled bandwidth. Even back in the day, 500MB really didn’t get you anything; but it could be rolled over (for a max of up to 2GB of free data) and was, most importantly, free.

As I said then,

“All you have to do is put a deposit down on either a 4G web stick ($50 bucks) or a 4G hot spot ($100 bucks). The device arrives via FedEx, and all you have to do is either plug it in or let it charge and turn it on. The device jumps on the network, and away you go.”

If you were stuck and you needed to get online to check email or reply to some kind of message, it was a quick way to get things done; and when the service was free… well, it just made sense.

The free deal went the way of the dodo a long time ago. FreedomPop no longer has free coverage or any free deal that I’m able to qualify or sign up for, though they do offer free, additional data that may add to your monthly allotment each month if you complete “special” offers or invite/ refer friends who sign up for the service. Their technology has turned over too. Freedom pop used to run on WiMAX, which was a 4G service that pre-dated the implementation of LTE. That service is now totally gone and the bandwidth it ran on repurposed and reprovisioned. Everything now runs on an LTE network that is effectively resold service from Sprint, Virgin Mobile or someone else that runs on either Verizon Wireless’ or Sprint’s mobile network.

A few years ago, I began working in Omaha and Lincoln, NE. During that time, I wanted to cancel my FreedomPop account, but to be very honest, every time I tried to call FreedomPop to cancel – and I tried a number of different times – I got connected with a customer service representative whose first language was not English. Unfortunately for me, I have a noticeable hearing loss and their accent was so thick, I could not understand them and I ended up hanging up on them. I tried a number of times and honestly spent well over five (5) hours total time trying – over the course of a few weeks – to get my account cancelled. Escalating my needs to a manager or supervisor didn’t resolve the situation either, as they were poor English speakers as well.

In the end, I gave up. I downgraded my account to the lowest tier and just ate the monthly cost.

Now, jump ahead about three years…

I’m a DirecTV customer and have been for about eight (8) years. I am also an AT&T Wireless customer, and since the two merged, AT&T is offering unlimited wireless data plans to customers of both services. Since I qualified, I called AT&T to inquire about it and found that it could save me nearly $400 a MONTH in wireless service charges for four (4) wireless lines, per month.

Yes… you’re reading that right – $400 per MONTH in savings.

It basically gives me one line for free, plus about an additional $75 off my previous monthly bill, AND each LINE has about 22GB of unrestricted, high speed wireless service before that INDIVIDUAL line gets shuttered to a slower speed.

The only problem that I’ve got is that now, AT&T is telling me that the personal hotspot feature of my iPhones won’t work… EVER… or at least, not on this particular wireless plan. This is really only a problem for either my wife and oldest son, as my youngest son may sponge off their mobile broadband connection for his iPod Touch or iPad when they’re out and about; or is a problem for my daughter and granddaughter as my granddaughter may use my daughter’s mobile broadband connection for much the same purposes.

Hence the need for the FreedomPop account at this point.

I dusted off my old hotspot and quickly found that it was no longer usable. FreedomPop offered an upgrade to an LTE hotspot, and it arrived today. That’s where the migraine began…

First, I had to upgrade my account from its 1GB, $10 per month account to a 2GB, $20 per month account just to get the new LTE hotspot device. Then, the hotspot was $90 bucks… and that just got me back ON the internet via the FreedomPop service.

As I said, the hotspot arrived and I spent a bit of time today trying to get it up and running. Like the original hotspot I got, I expected just to be able to pull it out of the box, plug it in, and jump on the Internet…

Yeah… It didn’t go that well.

First the device was a refurb device. I totally wasn’t expecting that. I paid for new hotness. I expected new hotness. Instead, I got old and rebuilt.

Secondly, the device – a Netgear Mingle Mobile Hotspot – appears to be riding the Virgin Mobile network. While Virgin Mobile is a Sprint MVNO, I totally did NOT expect to be riding Virgin Mobile’s service. This will prove to be significant in a moment…

After getting the device out of the box, put together (battery… back cover, etc.) the FreedomPop “quick start guide” – a easily overlooked and flimsy insert in the back of the very small product box – says to do nothing more than to put the battery and back on the device (which I had already done) and turn it on. After that, the FreedomPop hotspot SSID and password would appear on the LCD screen. You use that information to get online, and that should be it.

It wasn’t. My device indicated that it needed to be activated. This was where the fun began.

Since the device wasn’t charged, and it was a microUSB powered device, I plugged it into my Mac to charge. This brought up an install window that ran an app that installed drivers that would allow you to run the device as a tethered mobile modem. I installed the software and restarted my Mac.

After the restart, my Mac found the modem and I clicked the Wi-Fi icon on my Menu Bar and selected the mobile modem. At that point, Safari automatically started and I noticed the Virgin Mobile logo on the hotspot and on the activation web page it opened.
The device indicated that it needed to be activated. When I tried to activate it, it hit 20% in the progress bar window that appeared, and then failed. I tried a few different times both as a mobile modem and as a Wi-Fi hotspot before following the instructions on the activation web site and called Virgin Mobile.

That was a huge mistake. Initially I thought I wanted to call Virgin Mobile over FreedomPop. Again, big mistake. They didn’t know who I was and didn’t care. I got the run around from them for over 30 minutes before hanging up. When I called back, I somehow got the SAME customer service rep. I hung up on him again, completely dumbfounded that of all the customer service reps in the call center, I got him twice in a row… How does that happen??

With my hotspot still not activated, I grabbed the “quick start guide” again and found a FreedomPop phone number and called them. This time, I got someone who spoke better English, but couldn’t speak loudly enough for me to hear them. After turning up the volume on my handset all the way up, and insuring that they had access to my account, the rep indicated that I shouldn’t need to activate my device. It should already be activated. I agreed, but she asked for the IMEI of the device, anyway.

Then she said there was something wrong with the device and put me on hold. While I was on hold, the device miraculously activated and began downloading a firmware update. The update hung in the middle of the process.

Thankfully, I was able to log into the hot spot (FreedomPop instructs you to use the IP address 192.168.0.1 with the default password of “password” to log into the device on their “quick start guide.” The guide is wrong. The correct IP address is 192.168.1.1) and correct the problems. I was able to restart the download of the firmware update and complete it.

However, that took over 428MB (or 20%) of bandwidth off my 2GB allotment. It doesn’t seem right that downloading a firmware update should cost me 20% of my monthly bandwidth allowance… It also kinda sucks because I haven’t even really had a chance to use the hotspot for anything yet and I’m already 20% down.

FreedomPop’s data plans have changed. The table below outlines the original vs. current data plans:

freedompopchart

These aren’t as great a deal as they used to be. Combined with the stellar customer service I got today, this may end up being a very short lived venture…

Are you using FreedomPop? How is the coverage in your area? Are you on a grandfathered data plan, or are you on a current data plan? Do you think you have enough bandwidth every month? Do you have any rollover data? Have you completed any free offers or have you invited friends how have joined FreedomPop so that you can earn free data every month? Have you had any issues dealing with FreedomPop customer service? Has your experiences with the organization been as bad as mine, or are my experiences (hopefully) just isolated incidents? Why not tell me about your experience in the Discussion Area below? I’d love to hear about your interaction with the organization and your quality of service results in your area.

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  • AnonymousArt3

    I am a grandfathered in user (the Free plan), and I guess that I am really lucky, the main issue that I had with FP is that when I ordered from their website, it was 3 MONTHS before I finally canceled the order. I then ordered a FP device from Ebay, and received it within a week. That is my only issue so far. I mean, 500 mbs is not much, but hardly something to complain about for free.

    I agree that updates like that shouldn’t cost you data, I had that as well, except that mine was only 20 megabytes, so very small in comparison. They really need an alternative download source that won’t use your data, or not count that against you or something. Not sure how they can do that, but there must be a way.

    When did they change the plans? They changed their terms recently, but it seems that was just for Auto-Top Up.

    No, I don’t have any rollover data, I went wtih the totally free aspect of it, and it has served me well. (I am answering your questions BTW)

    I did complete some free offers, but made sure they weren’t big stupid ones that may cost you if you don’t pay attention (free Trials etc.).
    I found a list of users that had their emails, so I added them. As a result I got 500 more megs a month, for a total of 1 gb a month.

    I did TONS of research, read TONS of comments on what this company does. If you read enough you know how to respond to different issues, something a lot of users don’t want to do for a product they are buying. So, it may not be viable. And now with a pay plan only, it will be less viable. I am broke, so I have no ability to pay for internet, yet I need internet to do things (like find stories and articles like yours). Or apply for jobs, or see the news (like for Linux, my operating system).

  • Gregg Shonka

    I live in Lincoln, and got Freedompop around 4 years ago (I think), with a Galaxy S3. The problems were always that I could only make calls when I was on a wifi network! Anytime I was away from home, Sprints coverage was too spotty. I forgot about my service, and never disconnected, so, I still show as having my free 500 mb per month, along with 300 free texts, and minutes. I recharged that old phone a few weeks ago to see if it miraculously would work now. Nope. Considered calling their customer service, not so sure I want to mess with it now.

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