No More Unlimited Mobile Broadband.
This Review Is Dated. Please See The 2012 Sprint 4G Review.
The following is not an overstatement.
Sprint mobile broadband is one of the best 3G services you’ll find out on the market right now. They’ve got the largest and best mobile broadband coverage plus average 3G speeds beating Verizon and AT&T in a number of cities. While their customer service needs some overhauling, I’ll cover why that shouldn’t affect your decision too much.
In this full review, I take a look at Sprint 3G plans, speed, coverage, devices and customer service.
Let’s get on with the show:
Sprint 3G Plans
5 GB Laptop Plan for $60.
Phone + Laptop for $150.
In the past, there were two Sprint 3G plans: A 40 Megabyte plan and an unlimited plan. Unfortunately, the carnival left town and they’re back to playing price wars with the competition. Now, there are two variations of mobile broadband plans:
- 5 Gigabytes (GB) for $59.99
- Unlimited Talk, Text & Email (for your phone) + 5 GB (for your laptop) for $149.99
For those who are familiar with Sprint’s Simply Everything plan, they’ve now added a $10 discount if you add their mobile broadband plan to it.
To be honest, I got a bit excited at the thought of technically paying $50 instead of $60 but then I noticed a couple things that you should too.
The 1st is that you’re still limited to only 5 GB with your broadband card. While I cover exactly how much 5 GB is and how it’s actually enough for most people, I personally use about 50 – 60 Gigabytes each month.
Also, if you’re already a Sprint customer, switching to this Sprint wireless plan will create new contract. For a few unlucky people, this may mean losing their old favored unlimited mobile broadband plan to move to a 5 GB capped one.
That’s hardly worth it.
I’m sure you and I would gladly pay an extra $10 for all the internet we can eat up in one month (especially if you’re an internet power user and your broadband card is your sole connection).
While Sprint advertises 5 GB of use, if you live in a remote area or do alot of travelling you’ll want to watch your usage. That’s because you only get about 300 Megabytes/month of off-network roaming. In addition to that, if you go over your monthly limit, you get billed at $0.05/MB (or $51.20/GB).
In one extreme case, a person got a bill for $27,888.93 on a cruise.
How much could you really rack your bill up to?
Picture this: I use about 50 GB some months. That’s about 45 GB in ‘overage’. 45 GB at $51.20/GB equals $2304. If I were subject to that kind of overage charge, my bill could easily be a mortgage on a mini-mansion in Texas.
To be fair, Sprint does state that it ‘reserves the right to limit throughput speeds or the amount of data transferred’. All that means is that they’ll severely reduce the speed (to about dialup) of your mobile broadband connection.
On the flip side of the equation there have been cases where customers get charged ridiculous sums of money for mobile broadband plans.
One kid’s parents got a bill for $19,370 when he unsuspectingly used his AirCard in Canada. Another family got a $4,800 bill when they took their iPhones on a cruise. To top it off, in another cruise related incident, a man got charged $27,788.93 for watching a Chicago Bears Game on his laptop via mobile broadband.
Again, to be fair, these stories are all coming out of the AT&T camp. While there hasn’t been any Sprint stories, it’s best to watch your usage to avoid becoming the first one.
The Fine Print
Deep within the terms and conditions, you’ll find what you can and can’t do with your Sprint 3G plan:
You can’t use our data Services:
- (1) with server devices or host computer applications, or other systems that drive continuous heavy traffic or data sessions; and
- (2) as a substitute or backup for private lines or frame relay connections. We reserve the right to limit, suspend or constrain any heavy, continuous data usage that adversely impacts our network performance or hinders access to our network.
That pretty much boils down to anything that uses the heavily uses the internet connection all the time.
Another tidbit of interest is this:
You’ve got 30 days from the day you activate your Sprint broadband card/mobile broadband plan to decide if its for you. Within that time, you can test out the speed, coverage and not worry about paying an Early Termination Fee (ETF) of $200 if you return it. That kicks in after that first month.
In one final tidbit, if you look deeply enough, you’ll find some words from Sprint on taxes you can expect. Thankfully, mobile broadband taxes aren’t as ridiculous as cell phone taxes. My own bill has never exceeded $2 in taxes.
Beyond the overage charges, fine print and other doom and gloom, mobile broadband can be a pretty sweet solution for someone on the go or living in a rural area. With somewhat DSL-like speeds across the nation, Sprint has one of the most robust and fastest 3G networks.
Sprint 3G Speed
It’s like a slow DSL connection.
So you’re searching to find out what Sprint mobile broadband speed is like and you find the regular stuff:
“With a Sprint mobile broadband card, you get average download speeds of 600-1400 Kbps, peaking at 3.1 Mbps, and 350-500 Kbps average upload speeds, peaking at 1.8 Mbps. Similar to DSL, and about ten times faster than using a dial-up modem,”
That’s nice and all but what does that really mean? How fast will it be where you are? How fast is 600-1400 Kbps anyway?
Let’s put this in context by comparing it to what we’re already used to:
Just from a quick glance at the graphs, you’ll see that Sprint mobile broadband speed definitely isn’t DSL or Cable.
It’s more like a slower DSL on average.
Don’t be fooled though, it definitely holds its own. On good days in ‘wired’ cities, there have been reports of Sprint mobile broadband speed kicking butt. It has for me and it might do the same for you. Not only do you see how fast it’s been for me, but my actual speeds using a P2P client (bittorrent).
The Fine Print
A few questions that pop up from time to time range from “Can I use Sprint Mobile Broadband for downloading movies and playing games online” to “Can I have it on all the time?”
The short answer to both questions are yes.
Sprint has the speed necessary to do both. I actively use my Sprint broadband card for online gaming, as well as regular office work. It gets the job done. What you have to watch out for, as I previously mentioned, is Sprint’s 5 Gigabyte cap. The last thing you need in your life is getting charged $51.20 for every Gigabyte extra you used.
Even though the Sprint mobile broadband speed will most likely give you the kind of downloads most people are looking for, what about the Sprint 3G coverage?
Sprint 3G Coverage
The Largest Mobile Broadband Network
Sprint 3G coverage has often been quoted as the largest. Unfortunately, largest doesn’t mean everywhere. It doesn’t take anything but one glance at their national coverage map to notice some sizeable gaps.
To be fair, no one expects them to have mobile broadband coverage in the Rocky Mountains. Alternatively, it would be nice to be rafting down the Grand Canyon while checking your email but it’s not exactly necessary.
What you can expect from the Sprint coverage area is 3G speeds on most interstates and just about all of any major city. Despite their horrible churn (customer retention rate), Sprint has a pretty robust 3G network following the acquisition of Nextel some years back. For the most part, it’ll serve business travelers and truckers very well.
I’ve personally tested it over 1001 miles of highway at 70 miles per hour (New Orleans to Jacksonville and Tampa to Atlanta) and I had my connection get dropped once…for 15 minutes total. That’s solid. It’s even helped me out when I blew a tire at 80 miles/hr.
If you live in a rural area, your coverage may or may not be spectacular. Naturally, the best way to be sure is to check out the Sprint coverage area where you live or actually get a broadband card and take it for a test drive. I recommend both (in that order).
The Fine Print
Our coverage maps provide high level estimates of our coverage areas when using your device outdoors under optimal conditions. Coverage isn’t available everywhere. Estimating wireless coverage and signal strength is not an exact science.
There are gaps in coverage within our estimated coverage areas that, along with other factors both within and beyond our control (network problems, software, signal strength, your wireless device, structures, buildings, weather, geography, topography, etc.), will result in dropped and blocked connections, slower data speeds, or otherwise impact the quality of services.
Services that rely on location information, such as E911 and GPS navigation, depend on your device’s ability to acquire satellite signals (typically not available indoors) and network coverage. E911 services also depend local emergency service provider systems/support. Estimated future coverage subject to change.
Yeah. What they said.
To cut the long story short here, it’s your regular disclaimer to warn you on not having ridiculous expectations of Sprint 3G coverage. It is a wireless service and as such it’s not recommended as a primary means of communication (much in the same way you should have a home phone, not just a cell). Do I subscribe to this?
Nope. I’m all digital.
Here’s where you can check Sprint 3G coverage.
1 Mobile Hotspot & 4 Broadband Cards
Sprint AirCards come and Sprint broadband cards go. Keen MBR readers like yourself may notice that broadband cards come in 3 forms: USB, ExpressCards and PC Cards. You might also know the nitty gritty details on why PC Cards are being phased out.
As a testimony to that fact, you can walk into any Sprint store or retailer online and you’ll only see ExpressCards and USB broadband cards. As a matter of fact, you’ll see mostly USB cards as they try to reach out to the netbook market.
Why USB for netbooks?
Well, the whole concept of a netbook is a little portable laptop that does just enough (i.e. hop online or type a couple documents). As such, to conserve on space (and cost), they don’t have ExpressCard slots. In my opinion I think that’s a bummer. The form factor on ExpressCards usually beat USB as they don’t stick out from the laptop as much.
Before we hop down to the actual Sprint AirCards, let’s cover some basic to moderate questions about Sprint broadband cards.
A question that comes up enough to make a worthy mention is “will the type of broadband card I get affect my download speed or coverage?”
In short, no.
If a card is labelled as EVDO Revision A, that means you will get download speed up to 3.1 Mbps and upload speeds up to 1.8 Mbps.
Currently, all Sprint broadband cards meet the EVDO Revision A standard. Since Sprint’s entire network is now EVDO Revision A with the exception of 1xRTT areas (think dialup speed in the boonies) not too much to worry about here. If you do live in a rural area check our mobile broadband fringe area solutions.
While there are not any significant performance differences, USB broadband cards tend to one or more features than ExpressCards. Typically, newer cards come with a microSD expansion slot that can turn your broadband card into a flash/thumb drive (great for those who like combo devices).
Enough rambling for now, let’s get on to some Sprint AirCards and Broadband Cards:
Sprint Broadband Devices
|Sprint Broadband Card||Flip Antenna||Compatibility||GPS||Current Price|
|Novatel Wireless MiFi 2200||Internal Antenna||Anything that works with WiFi||Yes||N/A|
|Sprint Broadband Card||Flip Antenna||Compatibility||GPS||Current Price|
|Sierra Wireless AirCard 402||No||2000/ XP / Vista / Windows 7 / Mac||Yes||N/A|
Sprint USB Broadband Cards
|Sprint Broadband Card||Compatibility||GPS||Extra Storage||Current Price|
|Sierra Wireless 598U Broadband Card||XP (Service Pack 2 or later) or Vista / Mac||Yes||microSD (up to 32 GB)||N/A|
|Novatel Ovation U760 USB Broadband Card||2000/XP/Vista /Mac/Linux||Yes||microSD (up to 32 GB)||N/A|
Sprint PC Broadband Cards
|Sprint Broadband Card||Compatibility||GPS||Flip Up Antenna||Current Price|
|Novatel S720 PC Broadband Card||2000/XP||Yes||Yes||Fetch the Price|
- Novatel Ovation U727 USB Broadband Card
- Sierra Wireless AC597E ExpressCard
- Novatel EX720 ExpressCard
- Franklin Wireless U680 USB Broadband Card
- Sierra Wireless Compass 597 USB AirCard
Sprint Customer Service
It’s gotten worse.
Last time we covered Sprint customer service, it was close around the time when Dan Hesse had recently become Sprint’s new CEO and the debacle of the Nextel merger was fresh in everyone’s minds. In that interview, he covered the elephant in the room by telling us what he was going to do to reduce Sprint’s churn rate (customers defecting to other carriers) and to improve Sprint’s notoriously ‘cut-throat’ customer service.
At the time Sprint also ranked last in a J.D. Power & Associates study of telecom customer service (Verizon and T-Mobile topped the charts while AT&T and Alltel were in the middle).
Alas, Sprint still had 1.3 million subscribers leave. Its biggest rival, Verizon Wireless, added 1.4 million customers in the same quarter, while AT&T, added 2.1 million. Interestingly enough, it was expected to be worse and so it’s stock ended up rising 19%.
One might say that they’re not ‘failing as badly’. It’s like your parents expected you to get an ‘F’ on your report card but instead you got a ‘D’. Improvement but….you still failed the class. What can you say?
More importantly, the 2009 Wireless Customer Care Performance Study (by J.D. Power & Associates) ranked Sprint customer service 2 out of 5…
The study looked at time taken to answer calls, time taken to resolve (total number of calls) as well as the actual problem to be resolved.
And they came in last…ouch.
To be perfectly honest, I’ve personally never had any problems with Sprint customer service. As a matter of fact, all my dealings have been pleasant. This bears some significance in the grander scheme of things. While they got the worst rating, most of this is happening to cell phone subscribers. The real take-away point is this:
If you get Sprint mobile broadband, you probably will not be calling customer service often.
In other words, don’t let this weigh too heavily in your decision for or against them. While it may be the nature of phones to have fluctuating bills and strange happenings you need to call in about, the issues that happen with mobile broadband are usually something you’d need to talk to tech support (not your average customer service rep).
So to give a fair and accurate picture, Sprint’s customer service definitely needs work. The fact of the matter is that if you’re dealing solely with mobile broadband, you may not end up calling them often. I’ve had the service for a year at the time of this writing and I’ve called twice. Both calls took less than 5 minutes.
Not too shabby.
Sprint mobile broadband is one of the best 3G services you’ll find out on the market right now.
For all intents and purposes, you’ve got one plan. It’s 5 Gigabytes for $60.
Sprint advertises “average download speeds of 600-1400 Kbps, peaking at 3.1 Mbps, and 350-500 Kbps average upload speeds, peaking at 1.8 Mbps. Similar to DSL, and about ten times faster than using a dial-up modem”. It’s closer to a slow DSL but not bad by any means.
Sprint has long claimed having the largest mobile broadband network. It’s actually still true.
While you shouldn’t expect to have Sprint 3G coverage everywhere, it’ll have your back in just about any city and along just about every interstate.
It’s a great part of your toolkit if you’re road warrior, trucker or RV’ing across the 50 states.
With 1 mobile hotspot, 2 USB modems, 1 ExpressCard & 1 PC Card, Sprint has a pretty wide selection of mobile broadband devices.
CEO Dan Hesse has been working since last year to improve Sprint customer service. Definitely still their Achilles heel.
Ever since the botched Nextel merger, things just haven’t been the same. Even with Dan Hesse stepping up to bat as Sprint’s CEO, Sprint still reported losing 1.3 million subscribers in the first quarter of 2009.
Not Sure About Sprint? Check out our Postpaid Mobile Broadband Comparison