March 20, 2012
While Verizon and AT&T nickel and dime users on tethering options and limited data plans, NetZero — the company once famous for its free dial-up Internet service — has built out a new offering for the 21st century: NetZero 4G mobile broadband. And true to NetZero form, some of it is free. If you’re a VAR on the road looking for a quick Internet fix now and again, NetZero could be the answer …
Users can buy the $99 hotspot credit card, or the $49 USB dongle, whichever they prefer. Then they’re good to go. There’s no activation fee or long-term contract. It’s that easy. Buy the dongle, get free Internet. How much free Internet? Not too much — only 200MB for the “free” plan, but $10 per month will net users 500MB of data, $20 per month will provide 1GB and so on. It’s probably obvious, but NetZero’s offering has some clear advantages: first, the lack of a long-term contract, and second, a truly affordable price for the devices. Users buy it outright and own it. All they may need to do is adjust their monthly plan accordingly.
If you’re the kind of VAR who travels around checking e-mail in crowded airport lounges with non-functional Wi-Fi, the $49 dongle is a steal, especially with 200MB a month free. But there is a snag: The free service 200MB service is available only for a year, after which it no longer is complimentary.
Still, the $49 investment isn’t bad, especially since there’s no commitment, no overage charges and options to add data as users need it. NetZero will allow users to “top up” a small data plan if just a little extra data is needed to make it to the end of the month, or they can switch to a larger data bucket without penalties. Even better, users can’t get charged for overages, because when their data limit is up, it’s up.
How’s the coverage? Inaugural cities include San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., but there are “over 80 cities nationwide” that support NetZero’s network. There’s no word on expanding this service, but it’s okay, because NetZero’s work is a solid start.
NetZero’s offerings, akin to startups like the Ting network, represent a product IT consumers have been clamoring for: something functional, easy and reasonable. The major telcos have rejected the idea, but it seems inevitable that users will flock to these emerging alternatives as they get fed up with their existing phone bills. Hopefully, push will come to shove, and the mobile world will cede to affordable data pipe plans. I hardly think there’s a single person who thinks his or her iPhone with tethering is worth upwards of $100 per month.
Looking to buy NetZero’s units? Think the telcos have it right? Think we’re doomed with expensive data plans? Chin up and chime in.
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