NetZero launches '4G' wireless service, we go hands-on

Remember NetZero? Today the company announced that it's launching NetZero 4G Mobile Broadband, a wireless service rolling out in 80 US cities and offering value-priced monthly data plans without activation fees, contracts, commitments or overage charges. Customers can chose between two levels of service -- Lightspeed (up to 1Mbps down / 384Kbps up) to conserve data and Warpspeed (up to 10Mbps down / 1.5Mbps up) for maximum performance -- and can switch back and forth by simply logging into NetZero's website (this can take up to 15 minutes). Five monthly data plans are available:

  • Free, $0, 200MB (limited to Lightspeed and limited to one year)

  • Basic, $9.95, 500MB (limited to Lightspeed)

  • Plus, $19.95, 1GB

  • Pro, $34.95, 2GB

  • Platinum, $49.95, 4GB

Two devices are offered -- the NetZero 4G Stick ($49.95 + shipping) is a Windows and OS X-compatible USB modem and the NetZero 4G Hotspot ($99.95 + shipping) is an eight device-capable WiFi hotspot with an LCD and a 2,200mAh battery.

So far, so good -- NetZero is becoming an MVNO. Yet strangely, there's no mention in any of the PR as to which network the company is using. We test drove NetZero's new wireless service over the weekend using the WiFi hotspot and figured out that it's using Clearwire's WiMAX network. In fact NetZero's 4G Stick is identical to the Clear 4G Mobile USB modem (manufactured by Ubee), and its 4G Hotspot is the same as the Clear Spot Apollo (a rather bulky unit made by Gemtek)-- see the FCC links below and read on for our impressions after the break.

We used NetZero's 4G Hotspot set to Warpspeed in various parts of San Francisco and experienced the same spotty performance that we've come to expect from WiMAX in the city by the bay -- downloads between 363Kbps and 4.7Mbps, uploads between 195Kbps and 1.7Mbps, with ping times between 74 and 223msec. You're basically looking at "4G" (faux-G) levels of performance here -- HSPA+ speeds at best and EDGE speeds at worst. That said, we encountered few areas without service and Clearwire's network was quite reliable if not a bit slow. While we didn't perform a full battery test, the power drain we observed appears to be consistent with the claimed 6+ hours battery life.

NetZero launches '4G' wireless service, we go hands-on

Pricing is pretty competitive for a non-contract offering as long as you're within the coverage area with a decent signal since there's no fallback to legacy networks. Most commitment-free options are only 3G or cost more -- except for AT&T and Verizon's iPad data plans which, well, require an iPad with a cellular radio. Otherwise, you're looking at signing your life away for two years to get similar prices (at least for heavy users) plus access to 4G speeds. Want to know more? Take a look at our gallery above and check out the full PR below.

Show full PR text


NetZero 4G Mobile Broadband Offers Disruptive Pricing, Fast 4G Speeds, No Contract-No Commitment Data Plans, and Secure Internet Access

Woodland Hills, Calif. – March 19, 2012 –NetZero Wireless, Inc., a subsidiary of United Online, Inc. (NASDAQ: UNTD), today announced the launch of NetZero 4G Mobile Broadband, a fast, affordable and protected Internet service for laptops, iPads® and other tablets, and netbooks.

This new service, which launches today in over 80 cities nationwide, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Washington, D.C. and Miami, lets consumers create their own personal Internet connections without being tied to unsecure public hotspots at places like coffee shops, airports and hotels. And unlike public Wi-Fi networks, where credit card numbers and other personal information may be exposed to hackers and data thieves, the NetZero 4G Mobile Broadband service delivers a protected, private Internet connection anytime, anywhere within its coverage area.

NetZero 4G Mobile Broadband data plans start at just $9.95 per month. Customers are not required to sign a contract, and can upgrade their data plan at any time. Each plan delivers 4G service with download speeds of up to 10Mbps and upload speeds of up to 1.5Mbps.

"NetZero is bridging the digital divide by letting consumers purchase a secure, quality, mobile broadband service at very affordable prices with plans designed to meet the consumers' data needs," said Mark R. Goldston, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of United Online. "Our service gives customers the freedom to take the Internet anywhere in our coverage area, without being tied to public Wi-Fi service or having to purchase higher-cost, sometimes multi-year plans offered by other mobile broadband providers. With NetZero 4G Mobile Broadband, there are no contracts or commitments, and our customers can even try our service for up to one year for free."

All data plans, including the free plan, require the purchase of one of two affordable access devices: the NetZero 4G HotSpot™ and the NetZero 4G Stick™. The NetZero 4G HotSpot simultaneously supports up to eight Wi-Fi-enabled devices, including iPads® and other tablets, within a 150-foot range. The NetZero 4G Stick supports a single laptop or netbook via a USB port. The NetZero 4G HotSpot costs $99.95 and the NetZero 4G Stick costs $49.95, much less than the cost of most comparable contract-free devices available today.

NetZero 4G Mobile Broadband includes an innovative feature that lets customers switch the speed of their service to meet their data needs. NetZero 4G Mobile Broadband subscribers can set their service at either LightSpeed, which delivers download speeds of up to 1Mbps, or WarpSpeed, which provides download speeds of up to 10Mbps. Customers in any of the service plans can toggle their speed setting to LightSpeed (to conserve data) or WarpSpeed (to maximize speed) at any time, allowing them to match the speed of their service to their current activity and maximize their data consumption.

With NetZero 4G Mobile Broadband, there are no overage charges. Customers cannot accidently exceed monthly data allotments. An alert lets customers know when they reach their monthly data limit, at which point, they have three options. Option 1: If customers are on a pay plan, they can buy extra data "Top Ups" that they can use through the end of their current billing cycle. Option 2: Customers can upgrade to a higher capacity data plan. Option 3: Customers can wait until the next month to utilize the service with a fresh allotment of data according to their existing plan.