by Izzy Goodman
This may be one of those times where a deal sounds too good to be true but actually is true.
Several years ago, I bought a device for $15 from a company called Freedompop which claimed it would give me free internet service wirelessly. I thought it would be a good backup for the rare occasions when my internet service was interrupted. Unfortunately, it did not work in my area. I gave it to my son who has no internet service at all at home. Though he lives only a mile away, it worked for him. He was in school the whole day, so he didn't need much when he came home except for checking email. In the period he used it, he never went over the free limit. So for the one-time payment of $15, he got hours of internet service.
A few years later, the device stopped working, so I went to the Freedompop website, expecting to learn that they were out of business. Not only weren't they, they were now offering better deals including free cell phone service. For the free internet they are no longer offering that little $15 box. Instead they are offering far more robust boxes starting at $49. You buy the box once and you get a limited amount of free service every month. You can subscribe to better plans which offer more.
Free Cell Phone Service
They offer a similar deal for free cell phone service. Since I work out of an office the whole day, I never felt the need for a cell phone. But once in a while I go out and then it would be nice to stay connected. They have two plans. If you already have a phone, you can buy their sim card and put it in. My son bought the card for 25 cents hoping he would eventually find a phone to put it in. I paid Freedompop $30 (total, including the shipping) for a Huawei refurbished cell phone which was sent to me. The detailed instructions I was emailed made it easy to install the software. Since my office line is a Magicjack, I installed the Magicjack app on the cell phone which turns it into an extension of my main line. Now if someone calls me, it rings both in the office and on the cell phone. If I return the call from the cell phone, it shows my office line as the calling number. Because it is a cell phone, I can now receive texts - something I couldn't before. Another plus is that Magicjack does not provide call waiting caller ID. If I am on the phone and another call comes in, I hear a beep but I have no idea who is calling. Now that number shows up on my cell phone so if it is an important call, I can put the first caller on hold. Otherwise, I can call back the second caller since I now have their number.
The free plan gives me 200 minutes a month, 500 texts and a half gig of internet access. For $11 a month, I get unlimited calling and texting. Then there are incremental fees if I want to increase the internet limit.
But the plan gets better. I only get charged if I use Freedompop's mobile connection. If I use my own wireless connection at home or wherever I happen to be, it does not get charged against my account. So those 200 minutes are actually be much more.
Phone Service Like A Budget Airline
Freedompop adds extra charges for services other companies include as standard. They have something called PremiumVoice which is supposed to make call quality better. That is $10 extra a month. I saw no difference with it on or off. If you want live tech support, it is $6 a month. Otherwise you can post a message on their site and wait a few days for a reply. They have a list of other services and fees (such as backing up your data online) but I found no reason to go through them. I removed all extra services from my plan before the end of the one month trial period.
Here is where the news is bittersweet. Call quality was perfect in my area and for several miles around. When I made a 70 mile trip to my son in the next state, I was able to take calls in the car on Route 9 (I wasn't driving but if I was, I could use bluetooth). The call quality was fine. But when I reached my destination of Lakewood, New Jersey, I had trouble making calls. The other person could barely hear me (with PremiumVoice active) and we eventually gave up. I drove 20 minutes away to Brick, New Jersey and calls could not be completed at all. The other line wouldn't ring. Later when I was in Brooklyn and again in New York City, a few incoming calls did not ring the phone but I found them later in my incoming call list.
If you absolutely need a 100% reliable cell phone and are out of your home or office a lot, this service is not for you. I would recommend MetroPCS (We pay $25 a month for unlimited phone, text and Internet and received free phones with the plan.) But this phone is perfect if coverage is good in your local area and you have one of the following situations:
- you have magicjack, google voice or a VOIP service which forwards to the cell phone
- you are near a phone most of the day, so you don't really NEED a cell phone but it's nice to have
-you have children who whine that they want a cell phone but you don't feel like buying one and then spending $20 and up a month for service.
-your home line is tied up a lot and you would like a second line.
Warning about selecting the plan
When you first sign up, they automatically enroll you in their premiere plan and add on premiere services (this is all included in your first month trial at no charge). After the first month, you would be paying $35 a month. When you try to downgrade your service you discover that the free plan is not listed. If you go to support, you will find instructions both on downgrading your plan and on removing the premium service (which must be done separately). You will get a lot of warnings and a few offers as you do this so you have to be persistent. It took me about 5 minutes to downgrade to the free plan and remove premium service. I was also emailed confirmation.
I now have two phones on the Freedompop free plan. One is for my 85-year-old father who attends lectures around the local neighborhood. He didn't want the expense of a cell phone but for a one-time payment of $30, he can now be reached when he is out of the house. The other is my business line. It comes in very handy to check email and receive calls when I'm out of the house, to make mobile deposits and when we were having electrical work done on the house and the power was off for hours, it let me keep in touch with customers. I have never come close to using the amount of calls and texts provided free.