A number of services have emerged in Southern California in the last few months, offering up free, or very inexpensive, 4G wireless connections. All of the providers are leveraging the 4G wireless network of Clearwire, the 4G wireless firm closely linked to Sprint, and most of those firms are looking to provide very fast, 4G wireless service for lots less than typically charged by cell phone carriers for access. We've stacked up three of the services below for comparison.
Basic plan: up to 500MB/data per month, free
Access device: 4G iPod touch sleeve ($99.00)
Financial backers: Mangrove Capital, DCM, and Atomico, the investment arm of Skype founder Niklas Zennstrom.
FreedomPop (Sherman Oaks) was created by the same folks who brought you free, peer-to-peer calling service Skype, and offers up fast, 4G wireless via a sleeve that connects to your 4G iPod touch. The company is targeting all of those 4G iPod touch users who really wish they had iPhones, and are tired for hunting for an open Wi-Fi network.
Basic plan: up to 200MB/data per month, free (bonus for social media activity); plans start at $9.95 for 500Mb/month
Access device: USB modem ($24.95 with plan, $49.95 without) or hotspot device ($49.98 with plan, $99.95 without)
Financial backers: Publicly traded.
NetZero (Woodland Hills) has been in the free (or cheap) Internet access business for forever. The company recently introduced a new, free plan which brings free (or cheap) Internet access to laptops, tablets, and other portable devices. NetZero's plan includes both laptop friendly options (USB modem) or a hotspot device, which supports anything with Wi-Fi capability.
Basic plan: $10 for 500Mb of data, $25 for 1.5 GB, and $45 for 4 GB, with no subscription and full rollover of data
Access device: hotspot device ($79.88 at Walmart)
Internet On The Go is taking a prepaid wireless approach to 4G data, again offering fast 4G access--but this time, based on prepaid purchases of data transfer. The service, exclusively available through Walmart, requires users to buy a MiFi hotspot device, but then let users buy cars for data transfer, which rolls over every month. So, if you only use 200Mb one month, you'll still have another 300Mb left on your account. The service looks to be targeting the occasional or budget-minded potential 4G wireless user who shops at Walmart.