Sprint and Sierra Wireless this January at the Consumer Electronics Show 2010, released what I consider the world’s fastest and most compatible 3G / 4G mobile hotspot. On June 4th, Sprint raised the bar by releasing the EVO 4G Android operating system based cell phone with built-in 3G /4G hotspot service.I can only speculate about how fast the EVO 4G hotspot service is, as I do not have one to test. But after carrying around Sprint’s Overdrive mobile hotspot for the last several months, I can say, that it’s the fastest wireless service I’ve used to date - and that includes Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T.
The Overdrive, a sexy Star Wars-esque black liquid plastic beveled square device, which runs a Sierra Wireless proprietary, user friendly system has 3G and 4G service compatibility - GPS for navigation with WiFi devices that support it and a Micro SD slot for sharing files between connected computers. The fall back service from 4G to 3G is smooth and, as with other mobile hotspot devices, like the MiFi from Verizon, there is no user action needed for it to happen. The MiFi from Verizon will fall back from 3G to a slower data service, if 3G is not available. I had the Overdrive with me at South By South West Interactive 2010 Conference in Austin, Texas - a 4G market and had fun using the device throughout the Interactive convention while touring around the city in a bus and in several hotel rooms.
I used the Overdrive in hotels that week in Austin, Texas that charged anywhere between $9.95 and $19.95 a night for Internet access, so I appreciate the mobile hotspot’s ability to switch between 3G and 4G, when I moved in and out of 4G service. When you configure the optional feature of GPS, you can use it to provide more precise location services for up to five devices.
At the moment, I’m using it with my laptop, iPad, iPhone 4, co-worker’s MacBook and a T-Mobile MyTouch 3G. All of which, except for the iPad (pre 3.2.1 firmware during the test), received 6 megabits per second in Austin, Texas inside of a hotel room above the 20th floor. That’s very good and is about the max for the device say other reviews. The hotel also most likely had a Sprint repeater cell inside to allow such a high data speed for 4G. Other than the 4G service, I receive about 800 to 900 kilobits per second on the 3G service.
Sprint currently offers 4G in Las Vegas, Austin, Baltimore, Portland, Ore., Sacramento, CA and several other markets. The company plans to roll it out in other areas, including the Bay Area of Northern, CA, Los Angeles, California and Miami, Florida. Wall Street Journal tech columnist, Walter Mossberg, tested his Evo 4G phone in Baltimore, where he experienced “the highest consistent downstream data speeds” he had ever seen on a cellular network.
Calvin Lee, a friend of mine on Twitter known as @MayhemStudios purchased an Overdrive and had seen 2 to 4 megabits in regions of Los Angeles before official launch. On a recent trip to Downtown Los Angeles, on the 25th of July, I noticed about 1.6 megabits of 4G service at 2 bars inside of a high rise on the 26th floor. On a trip to Marina del Rey, California on October 4th, I experienced over 4G service at 4MB inside of an 11th story hotel room. Then, I visited the Henry Fonda Music Box Theater in Hollywood, California on October 5th during a technology conference, where I experienced 4G service with 3MB inside of the building surrounded by other mobile hotspots, including several commercial grade wireless routers.
Like other mobile hotspot devices, the Overdrive has compatibility for up to five devices, the Evo has eight, secure connection via WEP and WPA passwords and a web based administration site. The Overdrive’s web administration pages are more polished than the Verizon MiFi and gives the user deeper access to device properties. The Overdrive offers several cool features above and beyond the MiFi mobile hotspot such as integrated GPS, File Server and external LCD screen, to show the status of connection. One of the coolest features of the Overdrive, is that it allowed me to use a T-Mobile Blackberry Curve with UMA service, to connect to it as a cell site to make several test calls, send texts and email messages plus surf the web.
Like all mobile devices, the Overdrive is not without flaws. The boot time to start receiving 3G service, if no 4G is available, has been greatly improved with the June Overdrive firmware release. On several occasions, a connected WiFi device asked to reconnect by having me re-enter the secure password. This happened on the iPhone and iPad, although now with the iPad 3.2.1 firmware update, this seems to have been fixed. The secure password error has also been fixed with the latest iPhone 4 firmware release. The secure code error went away on my laptop after the June Overdrive firmware update.
One of the Overdrive’s best feature is also one of its flaws - the 4G service uses a lot more battery power while using two and three WiFi devices. Thankfully, the battery is several times larger than the MiFi and does provide at least three hours of multi-device usage. If you continually use the Overdrive or MiFi as a UMA hotspot on a T-Mobile phone that supports it, the battery will be used up even quicker. Sprint’s Evo 4G will allow mobile hotspot service, but the extra cost and smaller battery limits its usefulness as a replacement for the Overdrive.
Thanks to Sprint for being forward thinking by allowing me to test the Overdrive over a course of many months. They have been excellent in their communications when firmware updates were released. I hope to bring you more reviews of their data devices, cell phones and services, in the future.
On July 19th, after I updated the iPad with the 3.2.1 firmware I tweeted, “After 1hr 31min test w/ Apple iPad 3.2.1 & Sprint Overdrive 4G mobile hotspot w/ 233Mb downloaded, no WiFi loss.” After extensive testing since February and several firmware updates on the Overdrive and now the iPad, they are a good combination for mobile productivity. At $59 per month for service on the Overdrive, this is a better option than paying monthly for limited AT&T 3G service on a WiFi + 3G iPad.
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