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Networking & Communications

NetZero still exists, offers 3G mobile broadband with 4G LTE coming soon

Remember NetZero? The company that made a name for itself by providing free ad-supported ISP service back around the end of the Clinton administration? Well, in recent years, it's reinvented itself as a mobile broadband service.

On Wednesday, NetZero announced an agreement with Sprint in which it will provide access over Big Yellow's 3G infrastructure, with a promise to offer access to the carriers' 4G LTE network later in 2014.

Up until now, NetZero's mobile broadband was built solely upon Clearwire's WiMax network around major population areas.

This was fine if customers wanted coverage around their home city (and which happened to be covered under the network), but it was basically worthless if you were traveling around.

The new coverage zones will give users access to Sprint's sprawling 3G CDMA/1xRTT/EVDO network, which will cover millions of more customers.

Some fine print

In effect, NetZero will operate two different networks: The clumpy 4G WiMax service and the Sprint network. Current customers can choose to stay on the current plan or they can move onto Sprint's 3G network (only if they are covered by Sprints network).

If they do migrate, customers will need to buy a new modem, and they'll be subject to new pricing plans, which are identical to before except with lower data allotments:

  • Basic: $10 per month, 500MB data allotment
  • Plus: $20 per month, 1GB data allotment (was 2GB under WiMax)
  • Pro: $35 per month, 2GB data allotment (was 4GB under WiMax)
  • Platinum: $50 per month, 4GB data allotment (was 8 GB under WiMax)

The company will still offer a free plan with a 200MB monthly allotment, but it continues to be limited to 12 months of usage. Free customers will then have to become a paying subscriber. Of course, all customers--regardless of pricing plan--will need to purchase a modem device.

As mentioned above, NetZero has plans to provide customers access to Sprint's 4G LTE network further down the line, however this that will not be Sprint's new speedy Spark service.

Furthermore, the dual-network modems that can provide access to both Sprint's 3G and 4G LTE services will not be available until the LTE service launches later in the year. So keep that in mind.

The new service may offer a better deal for some users as a complement to their current mobile service. As a point of comparison, Sprint customer purchasing mobile broadband over the company's 3G/4G network will be subject to a $35 monthly bill for 3GB of data; $50 per month for 6GB of data; or $80 for 12GB of data. Of course, the math gets more fuzzy when you consider that Sprint's Unlimited My Way plan costs $80 per year for unlimited talk and data.

Users will have to do the math to see what combination of mix-and-match works for them. But more competition in the mobile realm can only be a good thing.

Update: This story was updated at 4:17 PM EST to reflect the fact that current NetZero broadband customers can only change their service if they are within Sprint's coverage area (roughly illustrated by the lead image).

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