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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What’s hot in the second edition of the iPad 2

The new iPad 2 has arrived and “redefines the category Apple created less than two years ago, delivering the most amazing experience people have ever had with technology,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. Let’s take a look at the most important improvements.

First of all, there is a gorgeous high-resolution (2048 x 1536) Retina Display which  makes web pages, text, images and video look incredibly sharp and realistic and with 44 percent increased saturation, the colors are unbelievably richer, deeper and more vivid.

Second, the new iPad has a new A5 chip (A5x) with quad-core graphics which makes the iPad faster and more responsive to enjoy the benefits of the stunning new full 1080p HD-resolution.

The camera has been also improved (5MP) and it can now record full HD video and take better picture in low-light conditions. There is also a new video image stabilization feature which  removes the bumps and shakes typically seen when filming with a hand-held device.

iPad Wi-Fi + 4G has built-in next generation 4G LTE  for fast networks worldwide including HSPA+ and DC-HSDPA, and now both CDMA and GSM iPad users have the ability to easily roam internationally.

About battery life,  Apple announced that the new iPad will have 10 hours of battery life, same for the iPad2, and 9 hours when being used on AT&T’s or Verizon’s 4G LTE networks.

Pricing

The new iPad Wi-Fi models will be available in black or white on Friday, March 16 for a suggested retail price of $499 (US) for the 16 GB model, $599 (US) for the 32 GB model and $699 (US) for the 64 GB model.

iPad Wi-Fi + 4G for either AT&T or Verizon will be available for a suggested retail price of $629 (US) for the 16 GB model, $729 (US) for the 32 GB model and $829 (US) for the 64 GB model.

One more thing, the first edition iPad 2 is now offered at a more affordable price of $399 (US) for the 16 GB Wi-Fi model and just $529 (US) for the 16 GB Wi-Fi + 3G model.

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Samsung Galaxy Note – the link between Smartphone and Tablet

Galaxy Note has been released internationally since autumn, by skipping the US market. Only now at the Consumer Electronics Show 2012, Samsung decided to announce its product for the AT&T carrier in US. It is the third 4G smartphone announced to be available soon in the States after Nokia Lumia 900 and HTC Titan II.

Based on consumer research, Samsung decided to create a brand new type of smartphone that brings diverse mobile utilities while maintaining the smartphone portability. With its 5.3 inches HD AMOLED display (1280 x 800), the Note looks to be a hybrid between a smartphone and a tablet. Many of you will say that this is nothing else but a mini tablet. But this is not necessarily true. The Note comes also with an Stylus-Pen that widens the functionality of this device.

The S Pen is combined with the full touch screen to create a best-in-class mobile input experience. It is the most advanced pen input technology featuring an array of functions including pressure sensitivity, preciseness, speed and more. With the S Pen, you can easily sketch drawings or write notes with increased accuracy and ease. Also, the S Pen functionality is deeply integrated into the GALAXY Note’s native applications to provide a richer interactive experience.

The device runs Android 2.3.6. on a 1.4GHz Dual Core Processor with support for 4G LTE, EDGE/GPRS networks. Its huge 5.3 inch multitouch display is capable of 1080p Full HD video playback, adding support for an Advanced smart pen. The 16GB Internal memory plus microSD slot for up to 32GB makes the Galaxy Note a hyper gadget for the business class and for the ones that have big pockets…to stuff it in.

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Sony Tablet in two versions with Android 3.0

Sony Corporation (“Sony”), announced “Sony Tablet” project, two tablets with unprecedented design, including S1 (codename) which is optimized for rich media entertainment and S2 (codename) which is ideal for mobile communication and entertainment. “Sony Tablet” will become available in the global market starting in fall 2011.

“Sony Tablet” is equipped with the latest Android 3.0 which is designed for devices with larger screen sizes, particularly tablets. Both tablets are WiFi and WAN (3G/4G) compatible and users can not only browse the internet or check e-mail but they can also smoothly access digital content including videos, games and books through Sony’s premium network services and more, on-the-go at any time.

S1 has a 9.4-inch display for enjoying the web and rich content on a large screen. Its off-center of gravity design realizes stability and ease of grip as well as a sense of stability and lightness, offering comfortable use for hours.

S2 has two 5.5-inch displays that can be folded for easy portability. In contrast to existing tablets, its unprecedented dual screen presentation and usability allows its displays to be combined and used as a large screen or for different functions such as playing video on one screen while showing control buttons on the other.

An interesting feature will enable users to control home entertainment devices through S1 infrared technology working as a universal remote controls for a variety of AV devices. Also, through DLNA functionality on “Sony Tablet”, users can “throw” personal content to large screen televisions or music to wireless speakers.

Both tablets codenamed “S1” and “S2” are scheduled to be released worldwide in the fall 2011 with prices estimated under $700.

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New line of Dell products for 2011

Dell introduced an expanded consumer portfolio featuring next-generation 4G capable devices and high-definition 3D-capable laptops that deliver the ultimate in mobility, entertainment and gaming experiences for just about everyone.

The new products include:

  • Streak 7, Dell’s first 4G tablet on T-Mobile’s blazing fast new 4G network;
  • Venue, Dell’s new unlocked GSM Google Android 2.2 smartphone;
  • A new XPS-branded laptop with full-resolution 3D screen; and
  • New Alienware 3D capable gaming systems

In addition to the distinctive new solutions, Dell today announced it is extending its innovative Dell Stage software interface across its entire consumer product portfolio. The move provides a unified experience across Dell’s consumer PC mobile devices and makes it easier to access and share music, movies and photos. Dell also announced it is significantly expanding its popular Mobility Hub on Dell.com, which lets people find the perfect mobile product for their lifestyle.

Dell Streak 7: Gather Around the Family Tablet
The new Dell Streak 7 with Android 2.2 is Dell’s first 4G tablet to take full advantage of T-Mobile’s 4G network, the nation’s largest. With T-Mobile’s 4G connectivity and the Dell Stage user experience, the Streak 7 is the ultimate social-networking and entertainment hub for families with kids and students, putting your favorite friends, music and movies front and center.

Venue: Your Personal Express Lane to, Well, Everything
The Venue with Android 2.2 is the perfect one-touch, unlocked GSM smartphone providing instant access to everything you love. With its pre-loaded Stage software and 8-megapixel camera, on-the-go students, mobile professionals and active social networkers can quickly capture and share life’s moments with just about anyone.

Dell.com Mobility Hub: Your Mobile Super Store
Adding to its ever-expanding selection of mobility products, services and accessories, Dell today also announced its popular Dell.com Mobility Hub now offers a wide array of mobility products from popular manufacturers, including Dell’s own solutions. The enhanced hub – redesigned to offer a better shopping and activation experience – offers Microsoft Windows Phone 7, Android and Blackberry products. All devices from the store now arrive ‘ready to use.’

XPS Laptop with HD 3D: Unrivaled Dimensions in Entertainment
Dell is taking the XPS brand and mobile entertainment to new heights with a new 17-inch laptop featuring an eye-popping, adrenaline-producing, high-definition 3D display (3D viewing requires NVIDIA NVision 3D glasses, sold separately). The new 3D capable XPS 17 joins Dell’s recently introduced line of XPS laptops featuring booming JBL sound, an integrated subwoofer and crystal clear high-definition screens and, of course, HD video streaming with Skype for the ultimate in HD camming.

For Every ‘Stage’ of Your Life: Instant Access to Content across All Devices
Recognizing that PCs, tablets and smartphones are rapidly becoming the platform of choice for entertainment, Dell today announced it is extending its popular Dell Stage software across the company’s consumer portfolio. The move gives people simpler, faster access to their favorite content – from music, to movies to TV shows. Dell Stage also makes it easier to access and share photos, home movies and more across social communities like Flickr and Facebook.

Extreme Gaming that Pushes the Limits
Alienware, Dell’s premium high-performance PC gaming brand, is continuing its universal domination with sizzling new additions that take extreme gaming to new heights and ratchet up the hottest gaming system lineup in the industry.

The new M17x is Alienware’s first 3D-capable gaming laptop, offering a realistic, lifelike, mobile gaming experience in a 17-inch display (3D capability requires optional 120Hz w/3D Bundle WideFHD WLED LCD display and NVIDIA graphics card). With its available full HD 120Hz 3D display, the new M17x offers eye-popping stereoscopic viewing for today’s most realistic gaming and mind-blowing 3D Blu-ray movie experiences.

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