So much for saving bundles of cash. My nearly two-month experiment with FreedomPop, which was supposed to save me more than $800 in a year, came to an abrupt end the earlier this month.
For those who don't know, FreedomPop is a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) that buys up cellular connectivity from Sprint (NYSE:S) and then sells it as discounted phone, text, and data plans to its customers.
But the hope of saving some serious cash each month was met with a slew of dropped calls, frequent data connection problems, lots of customer service calls (and tweets), and eventually shipping two of my phones coast-to-coast in order to be fixed (spoiler alert: only one of them ended up working).
Eventually, I had to let FreedomPop go. It just wasn't working out. Though in retrospect, I feel a little guilty breaking it off with them via social media -- a phone call would have been much classier.
A quick recap
Back in June I signed up for FreedomPop's unlimited talk and text plan, with 500 MB per month, all for just $7 per month. Yes, you heard that right, $7 per month. I bought used Samsung Galaxy S3 phones from Groupon and started the adventure, expecting to do a recap three months later. Though, here we are, a bit earlier than expected.
The idea was for me and my wife to switch from T-Mobile (NASDAQ:TMUS) and save at least $800 per year on our combined smartphone bill.
The Galaxy S3 phones I bought, preloaded with FreedomPop's call and messaging app worked right out of the box and were easy to set up. Within a few minutes I was up and running, and even porting our phone numbers over a few days later was easier than I expected.
I'd say that about half of the time I was on a cellular call -- as opposed to a Wi-Fi call -- it worked pretty well. There weren't many dropped calls while using a cellular connection, though the call quality was not great.
The best thing about FreedomPop, besides the low prices, is the company's customer service. I spent a lot of time with a handful of FreedomPop customer service people -- both on the phone and on Twitter -- and their response time was normally very fast, and they were always eager to help. The major wireless carries could learn a thing or two from FreedomPop on this.
What didn't work
Unfortunately, this is where the positive vibes end. As I mentioned above, cellular phone calls worked fairly well most of the time, though the quality was worse than when I had T-Mobile (which, of course, could just be a Sprint network issue in my area). I received a promotional Premium Voice upgrade shortly after I set up my FreedomPop account, which appeared to help the call quality at times, though it's hard to know for sure.
The main problem came when using the FreedomPop app to make Wi-Fi calls. The FreedomPop app defaults to Wi-Fi calling first, when available, then jumps on a cellular network when there's no Wi-Fi (similar to how Project Fi works). But calls frequently dropped out even while on a strong Wi-Fi connection, including in my own home and standing in close proximity to the Wi-Fi router.
In addition to that, transitioning from a Wi-Fi connection to a cellular one during a phone call was anything but seamless. If I wandered away from a Wi-Fi connection while on a call, the person on the other end would be unable to hear me for a while (though I could hear them) and, at times, assumed that I had hung up. This caused a lot of confusion for the people I was trying to talk to and I eventually ended up turning off my Wi-Fi when placing calls to prevent this.
If all this weren't bad enough, my wife and I frequently had problems with our phone finding cellular and data connections. For example, I could leave my house, drive 10 minutes downtown, and have no connection whatsoever. This could usually be remedied by restarting the phone which, obviously, was not ideal.
Why I finally left
Some of the above problems made me want to switch back to T-Mobile for sure, but I thought perhaps that switching phones would fix some of the problems. So I ended up buying an iPhone 5 and 5s to see if they would work better than other phones.
I bought Sprint-compatible iPhones, got the SIM cards FreedomPop recommended on its website, and tried to change over service to the new devices. After going through the setup process, calling FreedomPop many times (some of which dropped out, of course), having the company ship me a new SIM card, and sending more Twitter direct messages than anyone should ever send, neither phone worked.
I eventually asked if I could just ship the two devices to FreedomPop so they could set them up, ensure they work, and then send them back to me. They agreed, and paid for shipping both ways.
When I got the phones back, it was clear FreedomPop was able to get one of the iPhones to work, but the other still did not connect to the network. One last attempt via Twitter conversation to get it up and running proved unfruitful. The company ran me through the same setup steps as before, and the iPhone 5s still did not connect.
At that point, after weeks of trying to set up the iPhone and on top of mediocre network performance, I was done. To their credit, FreedomPop got one of the new phones to work, but my iPhone never did. After I informed them I had switched back to T-Mobile, they offer to send me a free iPhone 5 to continue testing the network, which I declined. Sometimes you need to just cut your losses and move on.
I'm sure there are plenty of satisfied FreedomPop customers out there. In fact, a friend of mine actually uses them with a Samsung Galaxy S4 and seems pretty satisfied. If I had initially bought iPhones through FreedomPop, perhaps I'd be writing a different article. But the combination of dropped calls, dropped data connections, and the eventual inability to get my iPhone up and running was more than enough for me switch back to a major carrier.
Thanks for the memories FreedomPop, and thanks for taking me back T-Mobile. I'lll never leave you again.