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NetZero Free 4G (WiMAX) Mobile Broadband Plan vs Verizon, AT&T, Sprint & T-Mobile



If you’re old enough to remember the days of getting on the Internet via dial-up, then you probably remember NetZero and their free access plans. (If you’re not old enough… get off my lawn.) The “price” of the free access came in the form of ads. They were annoying, sure, but you were getting the web for free.

Many Americans still use dial-up for access (including NetZero), but the majority moved on to broadband long ago. Now the company is set to make a comeback. NetZero is offering customers free 4G mobile broadband via inexpensive mobile hotspots and USB dongles.

The free ride only lasts a year, but after that customers can sign on to one of NetZero’s no contract/month-to-month plans that start at $9.95.

NetZero 4G Mobile Broadband

The devices use Clear’s WiMAX network, not the LTE networks employed by Verizon Wireless and now AT&T. While that means users won’t see blazing speeds, WiMax still offers respectable speeds in the areas it covers. Kevin Fitchard at GigaOM saw speeds of 2-3Mbps in motion and up to 10Mbps while in one location.

Unfortunately, Clear has no apparent intentions on expanding their existing coverage beyond the 70 cities now in the fold. So unless you live in one of these areas, the NetZero offer won’t do you any good. (Head to NetZero for the full, detailed coverage map.)

Unlike the free dial-up of old, the gratis mobile broadband has limits. Users get just 200MB/month before they’re cut off. That is not a lot. According to the Verizon Wireless data usage calculator, visiting 25 web pages a day will use approximately 750MB/month. If you stick to text-only emails you can do a lot more — 250/day is less than 75MB/month (again, approximately).

To help keep customers from using up their allotment too quickly, NetZero’s tools give them the option to throttle themselves.

NetZero Coverage map

This is not going to be your only source of Internet, but that’s not the point according to Mark Goldston, CEO of NetZero’s parent company United Online. He told GigaOM, “We’re not going after home Internet replacement. We’re not going after the business user. We’re going after those 100 million public Wi-Fi users.”

That makes sense. Though public Wi-Fi is growing beyond saturated urban areas with free access available in Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, Panera Bread, McDonald’s and more, there are still areas where free access isn’t available. You always seem to end up there right when you need the Internet most.

Customers have their choice of two devices: a $50 USB dongle and a $100 mobile hotspot. While those prices aren’t exactly cheap, they’re less than you’d pay buying a device from Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, or T-Mobile. Still, even with free access, those devices are still a big hurdle for many.

NetZero Mobile Hotspot

Image Credit: Boy Genius Report

After the free year is up, NetZero offers the following month-to-month options.

NetZero Basic Plus Pro Platinum
Price $9.95 $19.95 $34.95 $49.95
Data 500MB 1GB 2GB 4GB

While these might not offer the best per megabyte value, they do compare favorably to the options from the largest nationwide carriers.

T-Mobile has the lowest cost 4G hotspots with the carrier-branded model selling for just $124.99 and the Sonic 4G at $174.99. The Jet 2.0 USB dongle costs $124.99 as well. Or step up to the Rocket 3.0 for $174.99. T-Mobile’s no-contract plans are also closer to NetZero’s in price, though still more expensive.

T-Mobile Week Pass Month Pass Month Pass
Price $10.00 $30.00 $50.00
Data 100MB 1GB 3GB

If you want a 4G Verizon Wireless mobile hotspot on a month-to-month basis, you’ll have to pay $269.99 (Verizon Jetpack 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot MiFi 4510L); a USB dongle costs $249.99. If you sign up for a two-year contract you can get these devices for as little as $19.99 or free, but you’re locked in for two years. Plus, you only have two plan choices:

Verizon Wireless
Price $50.00 $80.00
Data 5GB 10GB

AT&T‘s USBConnect Momentum 4G dongle costs $229.99 without a contract ($29.99 with) and the Elevate 4G mobile hotspot costs $269.99 ($69.99 with contract). This carrier only offers one plan. To get pre-paid or month-to-month access you’ll have to visit a retail location.

Price $50.00
Data 5GB

Sprint‘s Novatel MiFi mobile hotspot is $279.99 without a contract, but the carrier generously offers it for free if you sign up for two years. Sprint also offers a wider range of plans. To get pre-paid or month-to-month access you’ll have to visit a retail location.

Price $34.99 $49.99 $79.99
Data 3GB 6GB 12GB

Overall, if you’re going for the lowest prices possible because of budget restrictions, NetZero is the way to go even after the free year is up or if you just want to start at 1GB/month.

If you can stretch your budget a bit more, T-Mobile is a good choice thanks to slightly faster HSPA+ and wider national coverage. They don’t offer you a free year, though.

Would you sign up for NetZero’s free mobile broadband? Take out poll and tell us why or why not in the comments.

[polldaddy poll=6054478]



  1. Rama

    05/10/2012 at 11:58 am

    I feel that I do speak for the future and the people plus the company. After all without each of us no one will exist. (One) the air time is free, so why not make the money on what is real and that is the object that is being used. (two) Ok charge a monthly but make the price right and you get more or all the customers in percentage wise. (three)And add the Hot Spot to be unlimited useage. I mean before real here you would make a hell lot of money because you are answering the peoples call and you will also be fulling there needs. (four) keep the no contract people like that, makes them feel that they are in control…

    From the Company end. To the COO and other head management, come on how much money do you really need to make from the people? Example – instead of 40 mil a year can you live with 30 or 35 mil because you made the price right for all to use…? Actually you may make more then your doing now because your inviting people who would never normally use your company because of price and limitations…

    Please understand I went out and asked 50 people – if the price was right for example 25 dollars a month and you got unlimited usage would you use this company… 62% said they would 20% they would think of it and see how its working for the rest… 12% said if they would do a Rent to Own on the Hot Spot it would make them think twice…

    Maybe I don’t know what I am talking about but I am here to share with your marketing people and concept lets make something worth the time and future…


  2. Daniel

    08/01/2012 at 5:24 am

    1.I think the internet will be dominated by fewer and fewer brands as consolidation continues. For that reason compitition is ecential to drive down prices. Providers are making ‘BILLIONS’ in excess of true costs….not so much for their investers. For this I support NERZERO. I only wish they could/would make it faster. I remember leaving my computer to give dialup time to load. DSL makes this unnecessary. With that said, I think Netzero is an important part of the IP landscape, and I commend them for their inovation and sticktoavness…GO NETZERO.

  3. Glen Miza

    08/23/2012 at 3:15 pm

    If you buy Netzero’s device and it won’t connect for whatever reason, Tough. They won’t guarantee their coverage map and won’t refund your purchase of their device.

  4. Paco Martinez

    08/24/2012 at 3:47 pm

    Me and my cousin had just stopped by Albasterdsons’s Supermarket: The had the carton cirgettes availabe in the liquor dept along with discontinuated iteams. Anyway, I had just buyed a NetZero device and was going to test it; Got home, GOT it set up and then my drunk cousin throwed up on it! Yuck. I had to clean it off but afterwards it workdid. Amazing stuff this new electronics technology.

    • biff dorkstein

      09/05/2014 at 12:44 pm

      you da man, Paco!

  5. Al Morris

    08/31/2012 at 3:14 pm

    Strongbear, what in the world are you talking about? How is the ‘airtime’ free? Somebody pays for the transmission and receiving towers along with their maintenance and upkeep. In addition, your data is NOT all traveling through the air. It eventually gets input into the internet and high speed data lines.

    These companies are owned by investors who put their their money into their stock in order to make money.

    You sound like the typical idealist naive kumbaya individual who thinks just because it would be a nice thing to do, it is a good idea. Netflicks and others make it all sound so easy but we simply do not have the data capacity to transmit unlimited HD quality video for every user. Try spending time somewhere like Iraq where it cost $100 per month for 256kbps and you’ll really learn the amount of data consumed when transmitting even low quality video. If you’re real lucky, you can do Skype video to video but don’t count on it.

  6. annapavonea

    03/13/2013 at 8:00 pm

    • Rico

      07/29/2013 at 8:59 am

      Where can I see results from this survey, I just completed it but expected to see results?

  7. Don

    01/07/2014 at 2:01 pm

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