For our trip, we purchased an Amazon BLU phone because it was unlocked, cheap (~$60), and powerful enough to do anything we needed.
One of the surprising aspects of the mobile market outside the United States is how insanely cheap everything is.
In the US, we pay $150 a month for two phones, 4GB of data and some number of minutes we never come close to using. There are cheaper options such as Republic Wireless, we've reviewed Republic Wireless before, but they're not nearly as well known as the major carriers.
What if I told you there was a service out there that gave you free internet?
It exists and it's not a gimmick.
What is FreedomPop?
In the beginning, they gave away 500MB of free 4G data every month via a wireless hotspot. You just had to send a refundable deposit for the hotspot device. You could pay more to get more data (or refer friends, complete offers, etc), yada yada.
But who wants to carry a hotspot? No one.
But who wants free cell phone service? Everyone.
So they added mobile phones. Kept the free tier. Cash money.
FreedomPop doesn't make any phones but they do have a marketplace of Samsung, Apple, LG and other brands of phone you can check out. They have over a hundred phones in the marketplace.
You can also bring your own phone as long as it's unlocked. If you buy a phone or get one from a network, as part of a contract, it's probably locked by that network. A Verizon phone can only work on the Verizon network, a T-Mobile phone can only work on the T-Mobile network, etc.
If you bought a phone separate from any contract, it be unlocked. You can use many of those unlocked phones with FreedomPop's Bring Your Own Device plan. You need to confirm with FreedomPop that your phone works.
Fortunately, since there's no contract (and there's a free plan), even if you sign up and find out it doesn't work, you can cancel it.
What makes FreedomPop different than other similar providers, like Republic Wireless, is that they have a free plan. The download speeds and upload speeds do not vary from package to package, just the data allowance and monthly fee.
There are three plan groups – one for if you use their phones, one if you use their SIM cards, and one for internet devices like hotspots:
For the Phone Plans:
- Basic 200 – $0/month – 200 minutes, 500 text messages, 500 MB data
- Premium 1GB – $19.99/month – unlimited minutes/messages, 1 GB data
- Premium 2GB – $24.99/month – unlimited minutes/messages, 2 GB data
- Premiere 3GB – $28.99/month – unlimited minutes/messages, 3 GB data
- Premiere 4GB – $34.99/month – unlimited minutes/messages, 4 GB data
For the SIM card plans:
- Basic – $0/month – 200 minutes, 500 text messages, 200 MB data
- WhatsApp 1GB – $20.99/month – unlimited minutes/messages, 1 GB data, unlimited WhatsApp use
- Global 2GB – $27.99/month – unlimited minutes/messages, 2 GB data
- WhatsApp 2GB – $29.99/month – unlimited minutes/messages, 2 GB data, unlimited WhatsApp use
- Global 3GB – $39.99/month – unlimited minutes/messages, 3 GB data
- Global 4GB – $44.99/month – unlimited minutes/messages, 4 GB data
For the SIM card plans:
- Basic 500MB – $0/month – 500 MB data, access to 4G network only
- Pro 500MB (4G/3G) – $3.99/month – 500 MB data, access to 4G & 3G network
- Premium 3GB (4G/3G) – $28.99/month – 3 GB data, access to 4G & 3G network
- Premium 4GB (4G/3G) – $34.99/month – 4 GB data, access to 4G & 3G network
- Premium 5GB (4G/3G) – $39.99/month – 5 GB data, access to 4G & 3G network
- Premium 10GB (4G/3G) – $74.99/month – 10 GB data, access to 4G & 3G network
In each case, overages are either $0.02 per MB (on any of the 500 MB plans) or $0.015 (the higher data plans). Whenever you go over the data, you're billed a Top Up Charge of $15 and credit to your account. The overage fees are deducted against that.
Note: There is no unlimited package.
FreedomPop Coverage Map
They have a pretty solid coverage map because in the United States they use the Sprint network plus AT&T LTE. Internationally, they use a mix of other networks. In the UK, it's Three with Fogg Mobile Roaming Services.
Is FreedomPop a scam?
How are they able give away free service?
Simple – they're able to do this the same way so many phone apps are free. It's called the freemium model.
You get the basic service for free but if you want upgrades, you pay a little more.
In games, your farm is free but you can pay if you want things to be built faster. Upgrade your barn capacity for 99 cents. Make more ogres for 49 cents. You get the idea.
With FreedomPop, bring your own phone and you get 200 minutes, 500 text messages, and 200 MB data for free. The free tier isn't a lot of minutes, text messages or data. An hour of high definition video content is about a 11 GB.
(25 Mbit/s * 3,600 s/hr = 3.125 MB/s * 3,600 s/hr = 11,250 MB/hr ≈ 11 GB/hr)
But if you need more data, just pay a little more.
Is it a scam? Ha, no. They ask for nothing up front – how could it be? You don't have to buy a phone, you don't sign a contract, and you aren't obligated to do anything.
What to watch out for?
There has to be a catch right? Kind of – you need to keep an eye on your data usage.
When you go over, you pay. Data overages are $0.02/mb for the lower plans (500MB data limits) and it's just $0.015/mb on the other plans. They're not exorbitant rates but at two cents a megabyte, a gigabyte of data will run you $20. Many a budget has been busted because of overage charges.
We plan to look at this whenever our kids need phones (they're still a wee bit young) because it's important they can call us but we don't want them doing too much on the phones. Having a throttle will be helpful in our case!
Have you tried FreedomPop? Good experiences, bad experiences?