NetZero Review

NetZero offers some of the lightest data packages available — its free plan caps at 200 MB per month, and its Basic and Plus plans cap at 500 MB and 1 GB, respectively. While NetZero isn’t breaking any speed records with download speeds up to 10 Mbps, it’s not the slowest provider either, and for these lower plans, NetZero’s prices are fairly competitive. That said, once you start using more data — anything upwards of 2 GB per month — NetZero tends to be more expensive than competitors like AT&T and Verizon. While we aren’t thrilled that NetZero requires you to purchase a device to sign up if you don’t have a compatible device, this one-time cost would be cheaper than going with a rent-by-the-month option like that offered by others.

The Claim

NetZero offers a free 4G mobile broadband data plan that includes 200 MB of data per month.

Is It True?

Yes, but there are a few catches. It’s true the plan itself doesn’t cost anything, not even NetZero’s monthly access fee. But you are required to purchase a NetZero Mobile Broadband hotspot no matter which data plan you sign up for. The NetZero hotspot can host multiple devices and comes with a one-year warranty, but it costs $79.95 plus a $20 one-time activation fee. You might not be required to purchase the NetZero hotspot, if you have a compatible device. The website doesn’t list compatible devices, so you’ll need to test each device’s IMEI or serial number to see if it can connect to NetZero’s network.

Another catch: NetZero’s free plan is only free for 12 months. After a year of service, you either have to cancel your account or upgrade to a paid plan. Ultimately, NetZero is best as a short-term solution. Once your year is up, it might be best to consider other providers.

Product Overview

Best for

People who want to check their email or occasionally surf the internet

Not for

People who stream videos, music or use a lot of data

Features


Price range
$0-$89.95 per month

Available plans and data

Free: 200 MB
Basic: 500 MB
Plus: 1 GB
Pro: 2 GB
Platinum: 4 GB
Platinum Plus: 6 GB
States and territories served

47 states and Puerto Rico
Fees

$3.95 monthly access fee (not for Free plan)
$79.95 equipment fee
$20 activation fee

Annual contract
No annual contract

Overage fees

No overage fees

Estimated speeds

While NetZero doesn’t specify the download and upload speeds you’ll receive at each service tier, a third-party website suggests your offer will include up to 10 Mbps download and up to 1.5 Mbps upload speeds. According to SpeedTest.com, a site which aggregates the speeds customers actually receive from their internet service provider (ISP), a download speed of 5 Mbps should allow you to use your phone or tablet as expected — it “should be fast enough to stream HD movies without buffering,” use social media, and access most websites.

NetZero hotspot

Currently, the device NetZero offers to connect you to the internet is its hotspot. In addition to its micro-USB charger, the hotspot is capable of connecting to your devices through a USB tether — so you don’t have to broadcast over Wi-Fi if you want a more reliable, wired connection.NetZero advertises that the hotspot can simultaneously connect 5-10 devices to Wi-Fi, depending on the model you buy.

No annual contract

One of NetZero’s major features is that it doesn’t require an annual contract. You can cancel at anytime or upgrade to a different plan if you need more data. This is huge considering some of the major carriers still require lengthy contracts and charge early termination fees if you try to cancel before the contract period ends. NetZero’s lack of a contract ensures you won’t be surprised by early termination fees if you decide to end service.

Possible Drawbacks

Upfront costs

While NetZero’s Free plan is free month-to-month, it’s not free to sign up. NetZero requires you to purchase its $79.95 hotspot when signing up for any of its plans. You’ll also have to pay a $20 activation fee, so expect to pay around $100 even with the Free plan. Additionally, we weren’t impressed that there’s only one hotspot model available, which is only available refurbished.

Free plan expires

Unlike FreedomPop’s free data plan, which stays free for the entirety of your service, NetZero’s Free plan ends after 12 months. This means you either have to end your plan or upgrade to one of its paid plans. While this might be fine if you only need free 4G broadband service for a short time, it can be a hassle for those who depend on free 4G mobile access. Plus, NetZero’s cheapest pay plan is $17.95 for 500 MB per month, the same amount of data you can get for free with FreedomPop and the purchase of a FreedomPop device.

Complicated Bring Your Own Device policy

While it’s possible to transfer your NetZero account to a different device, we didn’t find this to be simple. You’ll need to individually search for your device in the Bring Your Own Device toolkit before knowing whether it’s compatible or not. Unfortunately, it doesn’t provide a list of sample devices, and its toolkit requires an IMEI or MEID identifier — a number that is unique to each tablet, mobile hotspot or USB modem. Shopping around for a replacement also means finding a store with a good return or exchange policy as you hunt around for a device compatible with NetZero.

The Competition

NetZero
AT&T
FreedomPop
Verizon Wireless

Price range for single line

$0-$89.95 per month
$45-$80 per month

$0-$34.99 per month


$35-$95 per month

Available plans

Free
Basic
Plus
Pro
Platinum
Platinum Plus
1 GB
5 GB
10 GB
20 GB
Unlimited & More
Unlimited & More Premium
Basic 500
Premium 500
Premium 1 GB
Premium 2 GB
Premium 3 GB
Premium 4 GB

500 MB
2 GB
4 GB
5 GB
8 GB
Go Unlimited
Beyond Unlimited
Above Unlimited

Data range
200 MB - 6 GB


1 GB - Unlimited

500 MB - 4 GB

2 GB - Unlimited
Overage fees
X
X

Contract required
X
X
X
X

Note: Since NetZero only has a hotspot, the above chart only compares data plans.

NetZero vs. AT&T

When it comes to speed, AT&T holds an edge over NetZero. Its download speeds are slightly faster (around up to 12 Mbps instead of a maximum 10 Mbps), and it doesn’t require you to purchase a device — though you can rent one for $20 per month. NetZero is the more economical option, but only at the lower service tiers. As soon as you go above 2 GB of data per month, however, AT&T becomes the better choice, especially if you need a lot of data. NetZero’s highest service tier costs $10 more than AT&T’s. It also comes with a 6 GB data cap — and AT&T’s plan offers unlimited data.

NetZero vs. FreedomPop

Both FreedomPop and NetZero offer a free mobile data plan (you’ll still have to pay for any device you acquire through FreedomPop), and have similar data caps for their plans. FreedomPop’s plans have the advantage of being significantly cheaper, but that’s in exchange for a reduced download speed. NetZero clocks in at 10 Mbps, while FreedomPop caps at 5 Mbps. Unlike NetZero, however, FreedomPop also offers add-ons like data rollover plans ($3.99 to $6.99 per month). There are some restrictions, but this allows you to roll over any unused data to the new month. It also offers speed boosts, which increases speeds up to 25 Mbps, for an additional monthly fee — so ultimately FreedomPop’s speeds can be faster than NetZero’s if you’re fine with paying a little extra.

NetZero vs. Verizon Wireless

Verizon Wireless remains one of the best companies for 4G broadband wireless with reliably fast speeds (12 Mbps) and high customer satisfaction ratings. When it comes to customer satisfaction surveys, NetZero either doesn’t make the the top 10 or isn’t mentioned at all. Verizon’s lowest plan is 2 GB per month for $35, which beats out NetZero’s plan for speed and price ($42.95). But if 2 GB is too much data, you might be better off with either NetZero’s Basic or Plus plans.

NetZero FAQs

What is a hotspot?

Hotspots provide internet access to devices like tablets and smartphones while on the go. They’re generally available in places like airports, coffee shops and restaurants, but you can also purchase your own hotspot so you can connect anywhere. Alternately, it’s possible to turn your smartphone into a hotspot to connect your laptop or tablet to the internet. Keep in mind that doing so will use mobile plan data.

What’s the difference between a mobile hotspot and tethering?

Mobile hotspots and tethering are both ways to provide internet access to a variety of devices. They’re essentially the same thing. Mobile hotspots are devices (like a dedicated hotspot or even your smartphone) that can be paired with another device, like your laptop, to give it internet access. Tethering means you’re connecting a device that has Wi-Fi or 4G to a device that doesn’t, giving it internet access. The major difference is mobile hotspots imply a separate device whereas tethering can be done via a smartphone (though this is true of turning your smartphone into a mobile hotspot).

Can I cancel NetZero service anytime?

Yes. Because NetZero doesn’t require a contract, you can cancel your service at any time. To cancel your NetZero service, you’ll need to call its customer service number: 1-800-638-9376. A customer service representative will walk you through canceling service.

The Bottom Line

If NetZero is available in your area, it’s always worth comparing its plans to other internet service providers in your area, particularly if you only use mobile data occasionally, or don’t need it to stream music or movies. While it’s a decent option for lighter plans, NetZero’s higher service tiers are typically outpriced for the data and speeds they offer. If you need more data, consider looking at other broadband providers like AT&T or Verizon.