Did FreedomPop just sell me a ‘worthless’ Wi-Fi hotspot?


Tim Kreth’s Wi-Fi hotspot won’t connect. Does he deserve a refund?

Question: I recently ordered a $40 Wi-Fi hotspot from FreedomPop, a reseller of cellular data from the Sprint network. FreedomPop advertises that you can get 500 Mb of data per month for “free” on its 4G network. They have an “upgraded” plan for about $4 a month that allows you to use its 3G network, which is still a good deal, but certainly not “free.”

The free data only applies to 4G data, and I was aware of this when I purchased the Wi-Fi hotspot. I live in a suburb of Nashville, Tenn., and no matter where in the Nashville area I have tried to log on, I have been unable to do so.

When I contacted customer support via telephone, they asked me my address, and I gave it to them. They told me, “there is no 4G coverage at your address.” I explained that there was no coverage anywhere I went in Nashville. I was told I could “upgrade” to the $3.99 monthly plan, but I don’t really want to give these shady people any more money.

I have had a series of email exchanges with them, including screen shots of the administrative menu from the Wi-Fi hotspot, showing it has plenty of signal strength for the 4G signal to connect, but still, I have not been able to get online.

Additionally, when I purchased the hotspot, I was asked to provide my physical mailing address to “see if your location qualifies.” If there was no 4G coverage in my area, why did they say I qualified, and sell me a worthless Wi-Fi hotspot? I think they use this as a typical “bait and switch” game to get people to buy their $3.99 monthly fee (which is actually a good price), but not what they are selling on the internet.

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I hope you can warn your readers about this chicanery. — Tim Kreth, Nashville

Answer: The FreedomPop Photon you ordered sounds almost too good to be true. It offers fast “free” wireless at home or on the go. But you and I both know there’s no such thing as “free.”

The unit includes 500MB of data every month, “no questions asked” (I can’t imagine what kind of questions they would ask, but never mind). It also promises 4G wireless internet speeds, no contracts and “no gimmicks,” by which it means it won’t throttle your connection speeds.

So what happened? I asked FreedomPop to help me understand your issue. You purchased a Wi-Fi hotspot that had access to the 4G network. Your address is on the edge of its 4G network.

“He was in the zone enough for it to pass his address through qualification,” explains Robinson O’Brien-Bours, FreedomPop’s director of support. “But since he’s right on the edge, it is possible that his home does not receive strong enough signal for the hotspot to connect.”

Even within the greater Nashville area, 4G coverage is “fairly spotty and where there is signal, it is pretty weak,” adds O’Brien-Bours. In order to get a more consistent connection, you’d have to either enroll in its premium 3G fallback service or upgrade to one of its LTE-enabled hotspots. The LTE coverage in Nashville, and at your address, is strong, according to the company.

FreedomPop offered you two options: either return the hotspot that doesn’t work or upgrade to an LTE network. You decided to return your hotspot.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org.

  • Richard

    Wait a minute… LTE Is 4G, and visa-versa. While I doubt the product is a “scam” something is still wrong here. BTW since FreedomPop is a Sprint reseller, Kreth should check with Sprint to see exactly what types of service they offer. A quick look at their coverage map should tell a lot.

  • Richard

    Take a look at http://www.sensorly.com/map/4G/US/USA/Sprint/lte_310sprint#q=Nashville%2C+TN%2C+USA or just google “sprint coverage map”

  • cscasi

    Even within the greater Nashville area, 4G coverage is “fairly spotty and where there is signal, it is pretty weak,” adds O’Brien-Bours.
    That means the Sprint reliability is better with its 3G system because it has built out for that and not nearly as much for its 4G service. Guess they figure people will downgrade to 3G. Stupid, I know.

  • William_Leeper

    4G and LTE are used interchangeably; however, they are actually quite different. 4G is a defined standard by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU-R). 4G is defined as a data speed of 100 megabits/sec on mobile devices, and 1 gigabit/sec on stationary devices (i.e. Hot spots).

    LTE is not a defined standard, but is an acronym for Long Term Evolution. When 4G was defined, and even today the speeds could not be achieved, and so companies started advertising 4G LTE. This advertising basically meant that the network was on its way to 4G, but didn’t meet the standard.

    So, they are the same but different. And this difference means that each company can define LTE differently.

  • Meredith Putvin

    Just because 4G is desirable, doesn’t mean it is available.

  • Richard

    I agree, 4G is a standard while LTE is a technology/buzzword. What I was saying, in an oversimplified way, is that Sprint uses the terms as equivalent… Their 4G network runs on LTE and they, as far as I know, do not offer any 4G service that is not “LTE.” So, their statement that to LW needed to switch to 4G service made no sense.

  • Regina Litman

    I understand it may be unavailable. But where available, I’m surprised that it’s the “free” service, while the less desirable, though more widely available, 3G is not free. I am currently right outside of a state capital city, although not Nashville, using Sprint, and I can never get 4G here. Verizon has 4G here, but I swear by Sprint because I get unlimited data on my smartphone.

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