NetZero is expanding its mobile broadband service nationwide thanks to new network deals with Verizon Wireless(s vz)(s vod) and Sprint(s s), though many customers will be limited to 3G speeds only.
Last year United Online’s(s untd) NetZero decided to breathe new life into the “free internet” concept that made it household name a decade ago by launching a mobile ISP. Any customer that bought a WiMAX modem could get 200 MB of free data each month for an entire year. The problem — apart from not being able to do much with a mere 200 MB — was its coverage was limited to 130 million people in network provider Clearwire’s footprint.
The new mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) deals, however, will give NetZero near nationwide access, tapping into Verizon’s CDMA EV-DO network, which covers more than 300 million people. There’s a trade-off though. Verizon’s 3G is much slower than WiMAX, but Clearwire’s new owner Sprint(s s) will offer NetZero an alternate 4G technology, LTE. Sprint’s LTE network is a bit of patchwork today, but it plans to cover 200 million people under its LTE umbrella by year-end.
Existing NetZero customers won’t get access to the new networks unless they upgrade devices. For customers who want an emergency modem, the 200 MB free plan might be a good option, but the NetZero’s regularly priced plans really aren’t much of deal when compared to those of the big operators: from $10 for 500 MB to $50 for 4 GB (though NetZero is currently offering a special deal that doubles the data allotment on its premium plans).