Keith Combs' Blahg

Ramblings from another nerd on the grid

4G is here. What are you waiting for?

4G is here. What are you waiting for?

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Last week I had the pleasure of testing 4G cell phone speeds for the first time.  I must say it’s pretty impressive and just like the start of the internet, it’s only a glimpse of the future.  I say that because I still remember making the jump from multi-link PPP DSL to cable modem speeds. It felt like that again.  Here’s the full story kiddos.

Last week was the 2010 MVP Summit.  You know, the gathering of 1300 bandwidth sucking Alpha Geeks from all over the planet. Like any good geek I formulated plan A, B, and C to support my bandwidth loving needs.  Plan A was of course to use the Microsoft Employee WIFI.  But plan B was a well thought out high speed alternative.

Breath of Fresh Air

sprint u301 Enter from stage left, Sprint 3G/4G. Plan B could very well have been Plan A if it weren’t for the fact a couple of the meetings I went to last week were in the dungeons and EMI blocked rooms on the Microsoft campus.  No cell signal was present so you either used the company WIFI or you didn’t have internet.

Everywhere else the Sprint U301 worked with flying colors using Windows 7 Enterprise x64.  I tested the speed at dslreports.com and speedtest.net to get an idea of the download and upload speeds.  I averaged 5MB down/1MB up last week.  Of course the first time I demonstrated the device and plan to Mitch Ratcliffe I was down to a single bar and 1MB speeds on the 4G network.  The curse of Mitch.

5MB Speeds

5MB on a cell phone card. Let that sink in for a sec.  What happens when the number is 20?  They actually have the ability to support higher data rates or so I’m told.  5MB download speeds are great.  It’s nearly the speed I had when I switched from DSL to a Cable modem years ago.

Keep in mind to get those speeds you must be in a city with 4G coverage and near a tower offering a strong signal. The unit I picked at right is the Sprint U301 3G/4G stick.  I picked it because I wanted something that would work well if no 4G coverage was available. 

I also picked this stick because many of the new machines coming out don’t have PCMCIA slots.  That leaves USB or ExpressCard.  I decided to go with the USB stick because they are small and easy to plug in.  The USB plug pivots to the front or rear and it perfect for laptops with horizontal USB ports.  Since it doesn’t swivel, you might have issues with vertical ports.

I tested the U301 with Windows 7 Enterprise and Ultimate x64 on a Lenovo ThinkPad W510 and ThinkPad T61p.  It worked very well on both. I have not tested this device on my Apple MacBook Pro with OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard.  I also didn’t test the device with Windows Server 2008 R2.

The Competition

I returned the device for a couple of reasons.  The main reason is that I want to try the Clear devices before I commit to a longer term relationship.  I’m told both Sprint and Clear use the same network so it seems silly to make a choice until I’ve at least kicked the tires on both.  That and this week the device price was reduced compared to what I paid two weeks ago.

I’ve had Verizon for years and I am fully aware of their current EVDO capabilities.  I’ve also had AT&T and although I can get a corporate 3G plan for much less money, it’s 3G and I have to fight for bandwidth with the iPhone bandwidth hogs.  No thanks. I’d rather pay more for 4G.  I’ll try Verizon when the launch LTE later this year, and ATT again if they offer 4G.

Summary

Unless Clear just really blows my socks off, I’ll have no problem going with the Sprint U301 and 3G/4G plan.  Why would you get anything else?  If there’s no 4G coverage in the city you happen to be in, you use the 3G signal and are capped at 5GB of data like the rest of the world. 

If you have a 4G signal and speeds, it’s unlimited data per month.  Seems like a no brainer to me.  Why pay 3G prices when you can get 4G? Any questions?

[Update for 2/25]  The advertised price for the data plan for this card is $59.99 at sprint.com.  That’s the going rate at T-Mobile, ATT and Verizon for a 3G plan (capped at 5GB of data transferred per month).  Clear is $55 per month on a month-to-month plan.  Here’s the kicker.  When you are using 4G, it’s unlimited data per month and at a faster speed. 

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  • I'm still going back and forth on this. I live in Allen I'm not sure they can get good speeds that far out. I'm also concerned about getting a 4G stick which is in my price point because I travel and it can't used everywhere. Clear is going to present on their technology March 4th at Microsoft with discounts for people who want to sign up. Maybe They'll sway me with some cool offers. :)

    Check it out http://events.linkedin.com/DFW-Pro-March-User-Group-Meeting-Clear/pub/223911

  • Waiting for Windows Phone 7, of course :-)  Impatiently, but waiting.