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NetZero adds Sprint 3G support, LTE coming later this year

NetZero followed up on previously announced plans to expand its mobile broadband service offering across Sprint’s CDMA-based 3G network. The expansion comes with the implementation of a five-year deal signed between the two parties last summer that is set to eventually include access to the Sprint’s LTE network.

NetZero’s initial service offering, which was launched in early 2012, included access across Clearwire’s WiMAX network. NetZero continues to offer no-contract plans beginning at free for 200 megabytes of data per month for one year. Customers will then have to select one of NetZero’s per-month plans that begin at $10 for 500 Mb of data, $20 for two gigabytes, $35 for 4 GB or $50 for 8 GB. Customers that initially select a rate plan beginning at $20 per month can also pick up a required USB modem or wireless hotspot for half price.

The addition of Sprint’s 3G network expands NetZero’s coverage to approximately 276 million potential customers compared with the approximately 129 million pops covered by Clearwire’s WiMAX network. Clearwire, which was fully acquired by Sprint last summer, stopped expansion of its WiMAX offering to focus efforts on deploying LTE services. Sprint has said it plans to continue those expansion efforts as part of its Spark program.

Netzero coverage map
NetZero’s WiMAX coverage map

NetZero said it plans to begin tapping into Sprint’s LTE service during the third quarter. Sprint’s current LTE service runs across the carrier’s 1.9 GHz spectrum holdings, with total coverage recently surpassing 200 million pops. Sprint plans to add LTE support in the 800 MHz band, which should further expand coverage as well as folding in Clearwire’s vast 2.5 GHz spectrum to bolster speeds.

The expanded coverage comes at a critical time for NetZero as a number of other players have entered the low-cost mobile broadband space in recent months. Those players include FreedomPop, Republic Wireless and Scratch Wireless. The Republic Wireless and Scratch Wireless services are focused on smartphones and include voice calling, while FreedomPop is catering to both the smartphone and mobile broadband crowd.

Even Sprint got involved for a limited time with “free” wireless services, offering a deal through big-box retailer Best Buy targeting students. That program ran through the holiday season and was discontinued on Jan. 4.

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