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Two personal Wi-Fi hotspots: Different strokes for different folks

Barbara Krasnoff | March 11, 2013
Two Wi-Fi mobile hotspots offer very different services: The Verizon Wireless JetPack is fast but pricey while the FreedomPop Photon is limited but free.

According to a company rep, FreedomPop plans to offer more widely accessible and faster communications over Sprint's network later this year: 4G LTE service sometime in the third quarter of 2013 and 3G service for areas not covered by 4G (although there is no word yet when that will be available).

Prices and plans

FreedomPop may offer a certain amount of free connectivity, but this is not a non-commercial venture. Currently, the free Basic model offers 500MB per month; extra data will cost 2 cents for each additional 1MB. And watch for the small print -- you can't simply drop the FreedomPop device in a drawer and use it once every couple of months. If you don't use at least 5MB a month, you're charged a 99-cent inactivity fee.

There are two paid plans as well: The Casual plan charges $17.99/month for 2GB, while the Premiere plan gives you 4GB a month for $28.99. Both charge 1 cent/MB for any usage above that allowed by the plan.

No matter which plan you use, you are offered FreedomPop Speed Plus, which promises upload speeds up to 1.5Mbps and download speeds up to 12Mbps -- for an extra $3.99/mo. (According to a FreedomPop representative, download speeds normally average between 5Mbps and 8Mbps.)

If you're on a budget and/or don't want to pay for any of the plans, there are a variety of ways to add more megabytes. For example, if you invite a friend to join, you get an additional 50MB of data per month as long as that friend is a FreedomPop user. You can also earn data by taking part in a number of promotions (most of which I found too inconvenient to consider, since they involved giving my credit card number).

Once you've gotten through all the various payment plans, promotions and the registration page -- even if you choose the free Basic plan, you have to give them a credit card number -- FreedomPop should work nicely for the person who needs only occasional Wi-Fi access.

Verizon Wireless JetPack MiFi 5510L

If, on the other hand, you're looking for something fast with a wide service range, you probably want to go with one of the big guys.

Verizon Wireless' latest 4G LTE hotspot, JetPack MiFi 5510L, is larger (3.9 x 2.4 x 0.6 in.) and heavier (3.3 oz.) than the Photon, but it offers a lot more features.

The JetPack features a 1.4-in. LED display that offers a great deal of information about your connection and account. A glance offers immediate information about your signal strength and battery level.

Verizon Wireless JetPack MiFi 5510L

But wait, there's more. You can access the menu by using three touch controls below the display that let you move your cursor left or right and make a selection. From there, you can do things like get usage data, change your account name or password and see a list of the devices connected to the signal -- you can connect up to 10 devices on a 4G LTE signal and up to 5 on 3G.


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