The First 4G Network?
This Review Is Dated. Please See The 2012 Sprint 4G Review.
While Sprint mobile broadband doesn’t take the cake for 3G speed as they previously did, this year they’ve got an ace up their sleeve. As their 4G WiMAX network gets rolled out over the year, Sprint has an interesting mix of 3G / 4G mobile broadband plans, speed, coverage & devices that can shake up the competition:
Sprint 3G & 4G Plans
4G Costs The Same As 3G?
Previously, mobile broadband sprint plans came in the variety of a ‘small’ and ‘medium’ (40 Megabytes & 5 Gigabytes). Now you’ve got ‘medium’ and ‘all you can eat’ at certain locations:
3G / 4G Mobile Broadband Plans
|Data||Monthly Cost||Data Included||Overage Charges||Cancellation Fee|
|3G Plan||$59.99||5 GB / 300 MB roaming||$0.05/MB (or $51.20/GB) per GB||$200|
|3G / 4G Plan||$59.99||Unlimited in 4G areas, 5 GB / 300 MB in 3G areas||$0.05/MB (or $51.20/GB) in 3G markets only||$200|
You’re not reading it wrong and it’s not a typo. Both Sprint plans cost the same amount.
What’s the deal?
Sprint is ramping up advertisements for their 4G WiMAX network that they are building with Clear.
Get as many paying customers before competition (i.e. LTE by Verizon & AT&T) comes along at the end of 2010.
Since history tells us again & again & again that users of mobile broadband plans tend to go over their 5 GB cap in Gigabytes and not the Megabytes providers like to quote, I went ahead and converted the overage fees to Gigabytes to get a more accurate picture of how deep your pocket needs to be if you don’t keep track of your data cap.
3G Sprint Mobile Broadband Plan
Sprint’s 5 GB plan is the same as it was last year down to the overage charge fees. As I mentioned last year:
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 5 cents/MB (or $51.20/GB).
How much could you really rack your bill up to?
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 house.
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 bill $4,800 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.
‘Not sure about this whole Gigabyte (GB), Megabyte (MB), Overage conundrum business? Check out “How Much Is 5 GB & Is It Enough?“.
3G / 4G Sprint Mobile Broadband Plan
Sprint’s 3G/4G plan is the diamond in the rough of mobile broadband.
For the same price that you’d pay with everyone else, you get 5 GB in addition to unlimited mobile broadband in certain areas.
In the same way a cell phone with unlimited minutes can eliminate your home phone altogether, Sprint’s 3G/4G plan can make your cable, DSL or satellite broadband connection obsolete. One internet bill whether you’re at home or on the go.
To be fair, Sprint’s 4G coverage is still limited. As such, you’ll most likely be using the 3G network at some point. When you do, the same restrictions mentioned in the 3G Plan above will still apply.
A Quick Word on Cancelling Sprint
“You may terminate any line of service before its Term ends by calling us, however you will be responsible for an EARLY TERMINATION FEE of up to $200 (“ETF”)
Subscriber Agreements starting after 11/02/08 are subject to Sprint’s prorated policy ($200 through month 5 of term, decreasing $10 a month until $50 minimum applies to remaining terms).”.
In other words, $200 up until 5 months and then it drops by $10 a month (to a minimum of $50).
There is a cloud with a silver lining here.
“We are committed to making sure you are satisfied with your purchase. If you’re not, simply return your undamaged device and deactivate services within 30 days. We’ll refund your activation fee and waive your early termination fee as long as you return your device.”.
In short form, you’ve got 30 days to get Sprint mobile broadband, take ’em for a spin and see if you like them. If you’re really strapped for cash or just don’t want to pay anything, do it in the first 3 days.
“What If I’m Outside the 30 Day Window?”
Then check out 5 Steps To Get Out Of Any Mobile Broadband Contract. Learn how I only used 2 of the 5 steps to get out of my contract in 13 minutes and 55 seconds.
A Few Lingering Questions…
It’s a no-brainer to get the 4G plan even if it’s not yet in your area. You’ll pay the same amount as the 3G plan but get the benefits of the 4G network where it’s available. Naturally, that begets a couple questions:
- How fast is Sprint’s 3G speed?
- How much faster is Sprint 4G speed?
- Where’s got 3G coverage vs. 4G coverage?
- What kind of broadband cards can I get?
First up, we tackle Sprint mobile broadband 3G / 4G speed.
Sprint 3G vs. 4G Speed
4G Max = 10 Mbps. 3G Max = 3.1 Mbps.
4G Avg = 3-6 Mbps. 3G Avg = 0.7-1.4 Mbps.
This chart shows the upper limits of each range for average speeds (not maximum speeds)
Last year Sprint mobile broadband consisted only of 3G speeds. Now, they’ve got 4G speeds courtesy of Clear’s WiMAX. What’s the difference between 3G & 4G speed?
Here’s how to put those numbers in perspective. The average high speed internet user in the United States gets about 3.9 Mbps. That’s closer to the low-end of what you can get with 4G speed and its wireless (i.e. not stuck in your house).
The Speed Sounds Good But How Fast Is It For Actual Users?
Advertised speeds are one thing. Real world speeds are another. First up, let’s take a look at what real-world 3G speeds for Sprint mobile broadband looks like:
3G Speed Test Results
|Average Download Speed||Average Upload Speed||Average Download Speed||Average Upload Speed|
|950 kbps||350 kbps||795 kbps||375 kbps|
What About Real World 4G Speed?
There’s conflicting information on this. In some cases, you have reviews that get more than the average advertised download speeds like the one below:
TheStreet.com tests Sprint mobile broadband 3G and 4G speeds. Both do just as their advertised average range.
On the other hand, users over at DSLReports.com give Clear (formerly Clearwire & operators of Sprint’s 4G network) a 6 month rating of 69%. Garnering 57 positive reviews and 63 negative (at the time of this review), opinions are mixed. Several users report problems with coverage as well as advertised speed.
Sprint 3G & 4G Coverage
Nationwide 3G. 80 4G Markets On The Way.
After multiple years, the same statement on Sprint coverage still stands:
Sprint has 3G speeds on most interstates and just about everywhere in 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.
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“.
Sprint’s got a really bad reputation when it comes to cell phone service. Fortunately, that bad reputation doesn’t carry over into their mobile broadband network.
As a testimony to this, Amazon’s Kindle (an E-book reader) uses Sprint’s 3G network exclusively to connect to the online store.
With expected sales of $1 billion dollars in 2010, the Amazon Kindle is entirely dependent on Sprint’s mobile broadband network to make their digital book sales.
That speaks a large volume about their faith in the network’s 3G coverage, reliability and speed.
As covered in “Who’s Got The Best 3G Coverage?“, Sprint got 90.5% reliability in establishing and maintaining connections (AT&T had 68% reliability rating according to PCWorld.com).
Sounds Awesome, What About My Backyard?
Check out the Sprint coverage tool by clicking the map below. Be sure to click on ‘Data, Email and Multimedia’ before plugging in your street address.
But What About 4G Coverage?
While the gameplan is to have 80 markets with 4G coverage by the end of 2010, current 4G coverage is scattered across the 50 states.
You’ll be able to tell at a glance if it’s available where you are below:
How Do I Get On The 3G or 4G Network?
Whether you get a nifty MiFi or James Bond-esque Sprint Overdrive 3G/4G personal hotspot, you’ll be needing some kind of Sprint broadband device to soak up some mobile broadband.
Next up, compare personal hotspots and Sprint broadband cards.
Sprint 3G & 4G Devices
4 USB Modems, 2 Mobile Hotspots & 3 ExpressCards
If you’re looking for a Sprint broadband card or you’ve got 4 options:
If you’ve read “How To Pick The Best Broadband Card” from the Mobile Broadband Buyer’s Guide, you already know that ExpressCards and PC Cards (the oldest of the bunch) are being phased out in favor of USB broadband cards.
The proof is in the pudding:
In short, USB Broadband cards take up less space and are compatible with practically any computer (PC, Laptops, MacBooks & Netbooks) & operating system (Windows XP, Vista, 7, Mac OS X, Linux, etc).
Where Do Mobile Hotspots Come In?
Mobile hotspots (also called personal hotspots) are the Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Porsches of broadband devices. They’re new, they’re hot, they’re slick and do a bunch of things you Honda Accord won’t do.
Personal hotspots receive mobile broadband connection from towers (like your cell phone) but then broadcasts it via WiFi like a wireless router.
In doing so, suddenly you no longer worry about compatibility and support for netbooks, laptops, linux, windows or Mac. Instead, you’re figuring out how you can connect your WiFi enabled phone, printer, iTouch, camera and even digital photo frames. To stack the cool even more, you might just have GPS thrown in for good measure.
Which Sprint Broadband Card or Mobile Hotspot Can I Get?
Like I mentioned before, you’ve got 4 types of mobile broadband devices from Sprint. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of each by category:
|Sprint Broadband Card|
|Full Review||Sierra Wireless 598U Broadband Card||Novatel Ovation U760 USB Broadband Card||U301 3G/4G Modem||U300 3G/4G Modem (coming soon)|
|Form Factor||USB Broadband Card||USB Broadband Card||USB Broadband Card||USB Broadband Card|
|External Antenna Jack||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Max Download Speed Potential||3.1 Mbps||3.1 Mbps||3.1 Mbps||3.1 Mbps|
|OS Compatibility||2000 / XP / Vista / Windows 7; Mac OS X; Linux||2000 / XP / Vista / Windows 7; Mac OS X; Linux||XP / Vista / Windows 7. Mac OS X 10.4, 10.5 & 10.6.||2000 / XP / Vista / Windows 7 (32-bit editons). Incompatible with Mac OS systems|
|Network Compatibility||Sprint 3G Network (EVDO Rev. A)||Sprint 3G Network (EVDO Rev. A)||Sprint 3G / 4G Network (EVDO Rev. A / WiMAX)||Sprint 3G / 4G Network (EVDO Rev. A / WiMAX)|
|GPS||Yes||Yes||Yes (in 3G mode)||Yes (in 3G mode)|
|Extra Storage||microSD (up to 32 GB)||microSD (up to 16 GB)||No||No|
|Price||Free On The Spot||Free On The Spot||Free On The Spot||Still trying to find you a deal… for now Sprint has it here|
|Sprint Mobile Hotspot|
|Full Review||Sprint MiFi 2200||Sprint Overdrive 3G/4G Mobile Hotspot|
|Form Factor||Personal Hotspot||Personal Hotspot|
|External Antenna Jack||No||No|
|Max Download Speed Potential||3.1 Mbps||Up to 10 Mbps via WiMAX / Up to 3.1 Mbps via 3G|
|OS Compatibility||Anything that works via WiFi (computers, phones, game consoles, etc)||Anything that works via WiFi (computers, phones, game consoles, etc)|
|Network Compatibility||Sprint 3G Network (EVDO Rev. A)||Sprint 3G / 4G Network (EVDO Rev. A / WiMAX)|
|GPS||Yes||Yes (when in 3G mode)|
|Extra Storage||No||microSD (up to 16 GB) & is shared via WiFi with any connected device|
|Battery Life||4 Hours (with one device)||3 Hours (36 Hours on Standby)|
|Price||Free On The Spot||$40 on the spot|
|Sprint Broadband Card|
|Full Review||Sierra Wireless AirCard 402||Novatel Merlin C777||Novatel S720 PC Broadband Card|
|Form Factor||2-in-1 ExpressCard / PC Card (via an adapter)||2-in-1 ExpressCard / PC Card (via an adapter)||PC Card (PCMCIA)|
|External Antenna Jack||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Max Download Speed Potential||3.1 Mbps||3.1 Mbps||3.1 Mbps|
|OS Compatibility||2000 / XP / Vista / Windows 7; Mac OS X; Linux||2000 / XP / Vista / Windows 7; Mac OS X||2000 / XP / Vista / Windows 7; Mac OS X|
|Network Compatibility||Sprint 3G Network (EVDO Rev. A)||Sprint 3G Network (EVDO Rev. A)||Sprint 3G Network (EVDO Rev. A)|
|Price||Free On The Spot||Still trying to find you a deal… for now Sprint has it here||Free On The Spot|
- 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
So Does Sprint Mobile Broadband Make The Cut?
Whether Sprint makes the cut has just as much to do with broadband cards as it does mobile broadband plans, 3G speed & 3G coverage. Here’s a brief recap:
Sprint Mobile Broadband Plans
While there are 2 listed Sprint plans, only 1 makes sense. For $60 you can get a 5 GB of 3G service and unlimited 4G service. If you’re in the right coverage area, it could replace your cable, DSL or satellite broadband.
Sprint 3G & 4G Speed
Sprint mobile broadband’s advertised 3G & 4G speeds hold up in multiple independent tests. However, not everyone’s happy.
Sprint 3G / 4G Coverage
Sprint coverage for its 3G network got ranked as the most reliable. Unfortunately, 4G coverage is still scattered. It all boils down to what’s available in your backyard.
Sprint Broadband Cards & Personal Hotspots
Sprint has the widest selection of 3G / 4G broadband cards and mobile hotspots to choose from. Which you choose will have a lot more to do with the functionality you’re trying to get out of it.
Not Sure About Sprint? Check out our Postpaid Mobile Broadband Comparison