NetZero is famous for providing free dial-up Internet access back when it was the only option available to get online. Now they’re back and they’ve adjusted their products to suit the needs of consumers on the go with the NetZeroMobile Hotspot. They offer a number of different plans to suit the surfing needs of every individual, five to be exact. The plans don’t require a contract and the pricing and speed are both competitive enough to rival some of the other more established and well-known mobile broadband options on the market.
The first plan available to use with the NetZero mobile hotspot is the free plan. (yes, it's really free) It is the most restrictive plan available and allows users up to 20MB of data each month. It is most ideal if it is only going to be used sparingly or if the only things you need to do include browsing a few websites or checking email while out and about. It especially good for those that use text-based activites online, like sending SMS or email that doesn't contain images. It is worth noting that this plan is only good for one year and if a customer switches from the free plan and upgrades to one of the paid ones, they cannot downgrade at all and must remain with one of the paid plans.
The second plan is called the NetZero Basic Plan and increases the monthly data allowance up to 500 MB. It costs $9.95 each month. The NetZero Plus plan is in the middle of the range data plan. The Plus plan costs $19.95 per month and it increases the monthly data allowance up to 1,000 MB (1 GB) and is better suited if you anticipate needing to use the Internet more often and think that the 200 or 500 MB plan won’t offer enough data usage for you.
The fourth wireless 4G data plan is the Netzero Pro Plan for use with the NetZero mobile hotspot - this plan offers up to 2 GB of data each month. It costs $34.95 and is ideal if you want to look at a lot of photographs or watch a moderate amount of Non-HD streaming video through sites such as Hulu or YouTube. Last but not least is the Platinum Plan for $49.95/month. It caps the data usage at 4 GB each month. If you want to share the connection between a few different people or expect that your usage is going to exceed the amounts available in the lower plans, you’ll want to opt for the plan with more data available. The primary benefit that NetZero mobile hotspot has over some other companies is no contract requirement, regardless of the plan that is selected. This is ideal if you don’t want to be tied down to a provider for two years, which is the typical requirement that most mobile hotspot providers require in order for you to obtain service in the first place.
The speeds of the plans offered with the NetZero mobile hotspot are comparable to other providers. It averaged approximately 4 to 8 Mbps download speed in tests conducted in multiple cities where the service is available, which makes it on the same level as other 4G providers (with the exception of the new 4G LTE). The upload speed was much slower, with an average between 0.60 and 1.5 Mbps, but is roughly the same proportionately lower speed found on most other 3G, any a few 4G mobile Internet connection, when comparing download to upload speeds.
Great News if You Live in a NetZero Covered 4G Metro Area ... Not so much if you don't : (
NetZero coverage is limited to certain metro areas only, which happen to be 80 cities and metro-areas across the United States. This is bad news if you planned on getting it and want to use it in a smaller town or rural area. They are operating by reselling Clearwire’s WiMx 4G network, which is the same as Sprints 4G Network, since both utilize Clear's 4G infraatructure. Since it is limited to Clearwire, it does not fall back to 3G coverage if a 4G signal cannot be obtained clearly. This severely limits who has access to the service. NetZero offers the ability to check for coverage in your area directly on their website at www.netzero.com. Simply enter in your zip code and the map will zoom in and show you whether or not you’re in a covered area. This factor obviously cuts off a large potential user base that many would assume is a "questional" business strategy, however to NetZero's credit, they're doing the best given what they have to work with.
Couple this with the fact that sources (as of 2012) have reported that Clearwire will not longer expand WiMax beyond it's current footprint, might make a NetZero wireless customer a bit nervous about investing in "end of life" WiMax technology and hardware, like the NetZero 4G WiMax Mobile Hotspot.
The NetZero USB 4G Cellular Modem
Mobile access from NetZero is available in two different forms. The first is the USB stick that you insert into an empty USB port on your desktop or laptop computer. This is commonly referred to as a cellular modem or wireless wireless broadband dongle. It is the best choice to use if the connectivity is going to be limited to a single user who primarily uses a laptop to get online. It is lightweight and measures only .5 inches long, 1-inch wide and 3 inches tall with a weight of 1.2 ounces. It can be purchased directly from the NetZero website for $49.95 and works with any of the five plans. It works with both PCs and Macs, although the system requirements differ slightly. If accessing the Internet from a PC, you need to have windows XP or higher, a processor with at least 300 MHz, 256 MB of RAM and 65 MB of hard drive space. On a Mac, you’ll need to be running Mac OS X 10.5 or later, have an Intel based 1 GHz or higher processor, 1 GB of RAM and 25 MB of hard drive space.
NetZero 4G Mobile Hotspot
The NetZero 4G Hotspot is the newest and one of the most appealing 4G mobile hotspots available today, since it allows up to 8 people or Wi-Fi enabled devices to connect at the same time - almost all other mobile hotspots offer only 5 connections. It’s more ideal than the USB stick if you need to connect laptops, netbooks, iPads, tablets and smartphones to the Internet all at once. It costs $99.95 to buy and also works with any of the five mobile Internet plans the NetZero offers. It measures 3 .4 inches long, 3.4 inches wide and .7 inches tall with a weight of just 4.44 ounces. It operates on a 2,200mAh battery that offers a little over six hours of continuous usage. A computer or other Internet-enabled device needs to have Wi-Fi connectivity to access the Internet and it offers a range of up to 150 feet. The interface of the mobile hotspot device is beautifully simple - it only has two buttons on it. One powers the device on and off and the other mutes it. It also has an available port for external antennae if you need to boost reception for a clearer signal. Another key feature is the 2-inch LCD on the front, which is responsible for displaying the device’s battery life, data transferred, how many devices are connected, the SSID, signal strength and how long it has been connected.
How Does NetZero Compare Against other No-Contract Providers?
DataJack is another prepaid option and charges $89.99 for their mobile hotspot device, but restricts access to only five devices at once. It is also available without a contract. In the lower tiers NetZero offers a better deal, especially since DataJack charges $9.99 for the same data available on NetZero’s free plan. They also charge $19.99 for 500MB, which can be purchased from NetZero for half the price. Their speeds are also limited to 3G connectivity.
The other prepaid option is through Virgin Mobile. Their MiFi 2200 costs $109 and is available without a contract. It limits connectivity to up to five Wi-Fi enabled devices at once and utilizes Sprint’s mobile 3G network. They have a $10/10 day plan with 200MB of data and a $20/month plan, which provides 500 MB of data usage. They do offer an unlimited usage plan for $50/month with 3G speeds up to 2.5GB of data usage. However, once this limit is exceeded, mobile data speeds will be reduced by a reported 50% to 90%, or approximately 0.10 Mbps to 0.75 Mbps - in other words, not much faster than old-fashioned 2G wireless.
NetZero vs. the Major Providers Contract Offerings
Other options are also available for web connectivity, but they require contracts. Verizon offers their 4G mobile hotspot known as the Jetpack for only $49.99, but they require you to sign a 2-year contract. It allows up to 10 devices to connect at once and provides 4G speeds. They require you to select from their 5GB plan for $50/month or the 10GB plan for $80/month. The big difference with Verizon is their unmatched 4G LTE coverage, with speeds up to an astonishing 20 Mbps in over 240 metro areas in North America.
Sprint offers a mobile hotspot option as well, which also requires signing a 2-year contract. The device is free and offers four hours of battery powered usage with an estimated 60-hour standby time. Sprint plans start at $34.99 for the 3GB plan and increase to $49.99 for the 6GB/month plan. The highest plan is the 12GB/month plan for $79.99. Contrary to popular beliefs that Sprint offers "Unlimited Data" - that is not true for mobile broadband devices like mobile hotspots. Contract customers exceeding their monthly limit are access charges of $50 per GB. This has resulted in a large number of angry Sprint customers that have data use bills over $500 per month!
T-Mobile provides a 4G hotspot with a 2-year contract as well. It costs nothing up front and the cheapest plan begins at $39.99 for 2GB of data. You can upgrade to the 5GB plan for $49.99 or the 10GB plan for $79.99/month.T-Mobile does not offer users that ability for customers to simply pay for data over-use as does AT&T, Sprint and Verizon - T-Mobile simply reduces the speed from 4G to 2G for the remainder of the billing cycle.
Good old AT&T - What do they offer?AT&T also require you to sign a 2-year contract, but charge $69.99 for the mobile hotspot device needed to utilize the service. It offers 4G speeds but restricts the plan to one option, the $50/month plan, which offers up to 5GB of data usage. Overage charges are assessed at $10 per GB, same a Verizon.
The NetZero mobile hotspot is an ideal option if you need to get access to the web on the go without being tied down with a contract. If you’re expecting to use huge amounts of data (ie. 5+ GB's per month) , it may not be the most cost-effective method but has potential for the average web surfer to enjoy streaming video and music on an average use pattern. Its availability is also limited to some of the larger cities where 4G coverage is offered.