Woodland Hills, Calif. -
, which offers free dial-up Internet access and low-cost broadband DSL service for the home, is venturing into the cellular world for the first time with what it called "disruptive" pricing.
In more than 80 cities, the company launched free and low-cost prepaid 4G data plans for use with a 4G mobile WiMAX $49.95 USB modem and $99.95 mobile hot spot. The plan and hardware prices undercut the no-contract, no-credit-check data plans and hardware pricing of the four national carriers.
NetZero wholesales the service from mobile WiMAX carrier Clearwire. The modem and hot spot lack 3G technology, so users can't roam outside Clearwire's 4G footprint.
Through its website, NetZero is offering a free 200MB/month data plan, which cannot be continued after one year, a $9.95/month 500GB plan, a $19.95/month 1GB plan, a $34.95/month 2GB plan and a $49.95/month 4GB plan. The company promises download speeds up to 10Mbps and upload speeds up to 1.5Mbps.
NetZero will sell its service only through its website for now, a spokesperson said.
In detailing its service, NetZero said subscribers to its 1GB $19.95/month, 2GB $34.95/month, and $4GB 49.95/month plans will be able to toggle between 1Mbps-download service, called LightSpeed, and 10Mbps service, called WarpSpeed. Subscribers could toggle to the slower speed at any time to maximize data usage.
The free 250MB/month plan and $9.95 500MB/month plan are limited to 1Mbps downloads.
To prevent unexpected charges, users will get an alert when they reach their monthly data limit, and they'll be presented with three options. One is to buy extra data for use until the end of the billing cycle. The second is to upgrade to a higher capacity plan, and the third is to wait until the following billing cycle to begin again to use their data device.
All NetZero data plans, including the free plan, require the purchase of either the $99.95 NetZero 4G HotSpot or $49.95 NetZero 4G Stick USB modem. The HotSpot simultaneously supports up to eight Wi-Fi-enabled devices, including tablets, within a 150-foot range. The NetZero 4G Stick plugs into the USB port of a laptop or netbook.
Based on prepaid data-plan and hardware pricing on carrier websites as of Friday, NetZero pricing beats the prepaid broadband pricing of AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint's Virgin Mobile prepaid brand for USB sticks and hot spots (excluding cellular-embedded tablets and netbooks). Here's a look at a table comparing NetZero service with that of competing carriers.
Netzero is a subsidiary of United Online, whose subsidiaries include FTD.com, online nostalgia products and services websites Memory Lane and Classmates.com, and the loyalty marketing website MyPoints.com.