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April 6, 2006

Sprint to take on DSL providers with EV-DO?

Marguerite Reardon at ZDNet:

Sprint Nextel is preparing to take on the big phone companies in the broadband market.

The assault on DSL is coming quietly, but recent announcements and development in Sprint’s technology indicate that the company believes it can be the third pipe into the home–a pipe that would challenge the phone companies’ DSL service and perhaps would rival even faster-than-DSL cable-modem service.

On Tuesday, Linksys, a division of Cisco Systems, announced the Wireless-G Router for Mobile Broadband (WRT54G3G-NA), which allows Sprint mobile broadband customers to plug their broadband card, used to connect their laptops wirelessly, into the PC Card slot on the router. The EV-DO mobile broadband connection is then turned into a shared 802.11g Wi-Fi connection. The companies are showing off the new router at the CTIA Wireless 2006 trade show here this week.

Initially, Sprint and Linksys are marketing the product to businesses that require network connections in areas where wired broadband access is not readily accessible, such as construction sites, special events, offsite consulting, and at events focused on public safety. But Sprint admits the product may appeal to consumers and could be viewed as a harbinger for much larger ambitions, especially as the mobile operator deploys a faster version of its wireless broadband called EV-DO Revision A, which will be available in early 2007.

Ah, but the data rate and price are the deal makers or killers for home or regular office use. See this PC Magazine EV-DO review:

Sprint’s prices have come down, too. The company charges existing voice subscribers a maximum of $59.99 a month; data-only customers pay up to $79.99 for unlimited use. That’s the same as Verizon’s price, and at press time, Sprint was giving away free PC Cards with a two-year signup. Sprint also sells a 40MB bucket plan for $40 per month that scales up to a maximum of $79.99 per month as you use more data.

The price isn’t out of whack although obviously more attractive for current Sprint mobile subscribers. The free PC Card offer is here.

In recent tests in Washington, Baltimore, and New York using the Novatel S620 PC Card Novatel S620 PC Card, Sprint’s network blazed. We got average downlink speeds of 821 Kbps over 26 file transfers, with one test peaking at 1.14 Mbps. Upload speeds averaged 136 Kbps. That’s in line with our earlier August results in Hartford, Connecticut, and Newark, New Jersey, where we got an average of 772 Kbps downlink and 134 Kbps up.

And back to the ZDNet article:

Today, average EV-DO speeds are slightly slower than the lowest tiers of DSL broadband service. EV-DO Revision Zero, the current version of technology, provides downloads between 400 kilobits per second and 700kbps with upload speeds of about 50kbps to 70kbps. The new version of the technology, EV-DO Revision A, is likely to offer average speeds between 450kbps to 800kbps for downloads and 70kbps to 144kbps for uploads. These speeds are comparable to Verizon’s lowest-speed DSL option, which offers 769kbps downloads and 128kbps uploads.

It looks like the PC Magazine tests are beating the nominal rates, but still it’s just OK compared to DSL. Another big consideration is coverage – the speed will be real slow outside Sprint’s coverage area. Sprint’s coverage maps are here. But that raises another point – how sensitive is this router to placement inside a house? It’s not like a mobile phone or even a laptop that can be expected to be moved around. Since the router is completely wireless, it can go anywhere there is a power plug, but somehow I envision a customer wandering around trying to balance Wi-Fi and EV-DO reception, presuming there is good EV-DO reception anywhere inside a particular structure. I doubt it is hardened enough to go in the average residential attic and certainly not outdoors.

It’s too early for any real tire-kicking reports on the WRT54G3G-NA (although there are some for its cousins for other types of wireless networks outside the USA), but I’d suggest waiting unless you can’t get a DSL or cable broadband connection and basically have nothing to lose. There’s hope for the future though – again from the ZDNet article:

But EV-DO is only the beginning for Sprint in the mobile broadband arena. The company is looking to its large holding in the 2.5GHz frequency band to provide new 4G wireless services. Sprint is still testing several technologies, but a front runner in the race is WiMax, which supports peak data download speeds of about 20 megabits per second, with average user data rates between 1mbps and 4mbps. The company will start offering 4G wireless services sometime in 2009, Tishgart said.

Now they’re talking!

Update 4/13: A press release for the WRT54G3G-NA finally showed up on the Linksys web site with more details including availability:

The Linksys Wireless-G Router for Mobile Broadband (WRT54G3G) is scheduled to be available this summer through distribution channels and select mobile broadband providers in North America for an estimated street price of $199. A Mobile Broadband connection PC card and mobile broadband service is sold separately.

Posted at 7:05 pm. Filed under Companies, EV-DO, Linksys, Mobile Phones, Sprint, Wi-Fi, WiMax

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3 Responses to “Sprint to take on DSL providers with EV-DO?”

  1. jimmyjoebob95129 Says:

    I just picked up a Verizon EVDO card back in Dec. due to a new life of travel, and I can say it
    is AWESEOME! I cancelled my dial-up, Hotspot, and Cable-modem and am saving about $80/mo.

    It isn’t as fast as my cable-modem, in fact I’d say speed is on par with my 1st gen. DSL package
    from the late 90′s. I average on the lower end, and still haven’t got the Venturi client to work.

    It does work from inside the house on both EvDO and CDMA in all locations where I get signal.

    It is faster than dial-up in a hotel, and it works at home, in my apartment, and anywhere in between
    even giving me 144k performance in rural CDMA only areas.

    I have been BEGGING for an affordable EVDO router that I could install in my car. Wi-fi to the
    garage, and EvDO through an external antenna. A mobile ISP that is always with me, can communicate
    with a PDA for monitoring communications, and never trouble using hot spots or paying for them again!

    Are these available yet?

  2. Administrator Says:

    I just updated the post with some new information – the WRT54G3G-NA should be available “this summer” according to Linksys. It sounds great for a frequent traveler and if you can get good reception inside the house and need to connect more than one PC, it sounds just right for you.

  3. Sony VAIO TX series - laptops with battery life -- Cool Tech Reviews Says:

    [...] (The CNET TXN15P/B review mentioned is here.) No matter how you measure it, it still seems pretty good for a laptop with a Intel Core Solo U1400 / 1.2 GHz processor, 2GB of memory, and a 80GB hard disk. These systems are clearly targeted at business with Windows Vista Business Edition installed and Sprint WWAN access (for the Sprint Mobile Broadband service) built in. [...]

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