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

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By Christopher Elliott

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.

Caught in the web

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.” There was no coverage anywhere I went in Nashville, I explained. 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.

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.”

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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.

Wi-Fi woes unveiled

So what happened? My advocacy team and 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. (Related: Should hotels block your Wi-Fi hotspot?)

“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.” (Here’s our guide to resolving your consumer problem.)

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 the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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