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A year with FreedomPop: how did it go?

About a year ago, I wrote about FreedomPop's new data service and shortly thereafter signed up for an account. I opted into the Free 500 MB plan, which offers half a gig of data per month, with additional data available at US$20/gigabyte billed in $2 increments.

To get that free data, you had to put a "deposit" on a device -- a "deposit" that was really an upfront cost if you continued using the service. (You lose the deposit and the device becomes yours after a certain number of months.)

You can think of it as pre-paying for the first year of data, which turned out to be slightly over $100 for me after all was said and done, or about $8/month for the first year of 500 MB allotments. Now a year later, I'm pretty satisfied with what I purchased and I have regularly used the data when I've been out and about.

I've routinely connected my data to any number of devices. This is one of the big advantages of going with a router rather than a device-specific solution. It works with laptops, iPads, Kindles and so forth. You do have to remember to charge and manage the tiny puck, so that's one extra thing to carry around.

Keeping on top of your data usage is key. In my first write-up, I mentioned how important it was to disable the auto-top-up feature. That feature automatically adds a data purchase after you use 400 MB of bandwidth. What I didn't realize is that even with that feature disabled, after reaching your 500 MB limit, the data doesn't shut off. You simply keep going and get billed $2 per 100 MB.

I have a strict rule now for the family -- each time someone uses the FreedomPop router, they must make the iPad forget that network. This ensures that the device doesn't auto-connect and start sucking down data when you think you're using the home network instead.

It's a bit of a pain typing in the password for each connection, but far less painful than $20 per inadvertent gigabyte. I don't mind paying the extra cash when I know that I'm intentionally buying that bandwidth. It's doing so by mistake that really stings. (To keep your data flowing, you must always have an active credit card registered with Freedom Pop.)

Over the last year, I did run into one strange service issue at one point, which frustrated me, but eventually was resolved. FreedomPop's customer service was slow compared to other tech companies, but it did eventually respond. ("We apologize for the inconvenience, but we were experiencing a bug in our system that is causing an incorrect billing display on your account page.")

The company seems to be working on improving its reputation, especially if you look around the reviews and Q/As for its various products on Amazon. For that reason, I feel comfortable cautiously recommending the service. It compares favorably to other freemium options like that offered by T-Mobile, although I have yet to try the T-Mobile plan. (Under T-Mobile, you get 200 MB free per month and then purchase additional data.)

The most important thing to consider when evaluating whether these kinds of plans are right for you is how you use your data. Are you a light user who just wants to check email on the go? Or do you intend to heavily browse the web and get work done? Data prices generally go down in unit cost the more you buy. Budget solutions like FreedomPop's 500 MB plan work best for those who need only the lightest levels of connectivity and it's been a very nice perk for me and my family this year.

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