By Barry Levine / Top Tech News. Updated March 19, 2012.
If you think next generation 4G wireless service is going to add even more to your growing telecommunications bill, the venerable NetZero brand has an alternative. Customers can receive their 4G wireless service at no cost, for up to a year.
Of course, there are qualifications. Customers will have to buy either an antenna stick for a single device, or a mobile hotspot, which turns the 4G data connection into a Wi-Fi hotspot. And there's a limit of 200 megabytes monthly.
The antenna sells for $49.95, the mobile hotspot for $99.95, and both are available on the Web site of United Online, which owns the NetZero brand. The hotspot supports as many as eight Wi-Fi enabled devices simultaneously, within a 150-foot range. The 4G Stick supports one laptop or netbook through a USB port.
Users who exceed their monthly limit lose their connection for the rest of that month, unless they sign up for a paid plan to begin immediately or next month, or for a Top Up to offer extra data limits within that month. There are no overage charges. The free subscription is only available for one year, and, if a user signs up for the paid plan, they cannot go back to free.
The company said its service delivers download speeds up to 10 Mbps and uploads up to 1.5 Mbps. To throttle back and conserve their monthly download totals, users can set service at LightSpeed, for up to 1 Mbps, or WarpSpeed, which provides the full transmission speed.
There are four paid plans, starting at $9.95 monthly, which provides 500 MB monthly. The top plan is $49.95 for 4 GB, and none of the plans require a contract.
United Online CEO Mark R. Goldston described the new free plan as a one-year tryout, without any commitments.
United Online is reselling capacity from Clearwire's network, just as Sprint Nextel does. One drawback is that United Online is using Clearwire's WiMax technology, while most other 4G telecommunications providers are offering LTE. In fact, Clearwire is itself focusing its new investments on LTE.
WiMax has some issues with being able to transmit inside buildings, which Sprint has gotten around by offering its other data transmission capacity as a backup, but NetZero does not use that option.
Back in the old days of the late 20th century, NetZero became well known for offering a free dial-up Internet service, but users had to bear with advertising. The Woodland Hills, Calif., company told news media that it still has about 750,000 dial-up users, but its focus these days is also on its FTD flower service, MyPoints loyalty service and Classmates.com.
The new wireless plans launch Monday in more than 80 cities nationwide, including New York, Houston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Chicago and Miami.