Earlier today, news articles said that free phone service FreedomPop was shutting down. By the time I got around to writing this article, all that news was rewritten. (Welcome to the age of internet news.) It seems that FreedomPop isn’t shutting down, it’s just sort of transitioning to something else kind of skeevy.
What is FreedomPop and why should I care?
FreedomPop promised to be completely free cell service. Free as in, you buy the SIM card and then you pay nothing more, ever. You only get basic phone service but hey, that was good enough for people in the 1990s.
FreedomPop and other providers like it do this by replacing your phone’s main app (in many cases, called “Phone.”) You make calls by using their app and when you do, you listen to ads before the call is connected.
If that approach sounds a little familiar, you’re right. It’s precisely the way that providers like Juno gave the world free internet service a generation ago, and it’s still the way free broadcast television works. Like so-called free internet, it comes with a lot of catches and it’s not likely to really take hold in the mainstream. Free internet service pretty much disappeared 20 years ago, with the exception of free email services. Those services, like Hotmail, Yahoo, and Gmail, have been very successful because they mine your information in the background and sell it instead of bombarding you with ads.
I tried FreedomPop. It didn’t last long
I thought FreedomPop would be a good choice for a second phone. I had an old Android phone and thought, hey this would be good to keep in the car for emergencies.
The first problem: the phone didn’t work with the SIM I bought. This was an old Verizon phone and it wasn’t fully unlocked. So after I popped in the new SIM it didn’t work at all. A couple of hours and some sketchy web sites later I figured out how to unlock it.
Then… the phone was too old to run the FreedomPop app. Actually the Android version was too old. Out to the internet again to find some questionable bootloaders so I could put a new version of Android on the phone. I’m pretty surprised I didn’t brick it, but after a few more hours I had a mostly usable phone. It booted up and it ran the app.
The app kept crashing. When it did work I had to spend a lot of time waiting for my ads to load before I could make a call. I couldn’t get the phone to receive a call at all. Probably the weird Android version I put on didn’t support it correctly.
I wanted to try FreedomPop on something a little more modern. I bought a prepaid phone for $10 at the local CVS and tried again. It still wouldn’t load the app. That’s it, I said, I was done.
Free cell service … you get what you pay for
The idea of advertiser-supported cell service is nice but it doesn’t work. Traditional prepaid service can be had for about $8/month if you want a phone that will sit there mostly unused. Technically, there is no monthly fee but the minutes you buy will expire after 3 months and you’ll have to pay abut $25 more to add more minutes before you can use it.
For that price you get real working cell service including texts and browsing. You pay by the call, text, or megabyte, of course, but if you’re just using the phone as an emergency tool you won’t care about that.
This is a really small amount of money to pay. If you really need an emergency phone, consider a prepaid phone from AT&T. Our Signal Connect staff can get you all set up with one call to 866.726.4182. Calling someone to get set up may not be as easy as going to the local drug store, but they’re here if you have questions and you’ll get the same quality tech support as any other customer. If that’s important to you, give us a call or fill out the form below if it’s after East Coast business hours.