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.