Amazing 4G Speeds From a USB Modem

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In early October, we traveled to Baltimore to witness the launch of the first 4G network in the country: Sprint Nextel's (S) WiMAX-based Xohm service.

At that time, journalists were given glimpses of special test laptops and a home modem that provided super-fast data download speeds. What we witnessed was very impressive. But it was a hands-off demo. We could take pictures, but we couldn't take units and do our own testing.

All that has changed. Sprint Nextel has announced a new Xohm/WiMAX modem -- this one is a USB, plug-in 3G/4G dual mode model. We have tested the device in the New York City area (on Sprint's 3G EV-DO network) and we were very impressed. Then we drove back to Baltimore and ran our own unsupervised speed tests. We were blown away with the results.

The modem in question here is Sprint's new U300 modem. It is made for Sprint by Franklin Wireless. It's very easy to use. You install the software from the included mini-CD, plug the modem into any open USB port and you're on your way. The software, called Sprint SmartView, first looks for a 4G "WiMAX" signal, and if/when it doesn't find one, it connects to Sprint's 3G EVDO Rev A (or 2G in rare instances) "Mobile" network.

 

Using the U300 modem on the EVDO network is fast. Actually, it's faster than using a similar USB modem on AT&T's (T) 3G/HSDPA network (the same one that the Apple iPhone 3G uses). Maybe it's the locations where we tested (lower Manhattan, upper Manhattan and Suffolk County, Long Island) but in all three test locations, EVDO was the clear speed winner.

But that's only half the story. When we tested the U300 in Baltimore, we were astounded with what we got. We pulled into a parking spot in Baltimore's Inner Harbor area, opened the laptop and turned on the modem. First try; we were greeted with data download speeds of more than 6600 kbps. That number is four to five times as fast as the best 3G speeds we recorded and 50% faster than Sprint claims it will go. The DSL connection in the TheStreet.com offices provides only 1300-1500 kbps downloads. It's not capable of professional dedicated line speeds, but any way you measure it, Sprint's wireless 4G connection is really fast!

All of this is fine for Baltimore, but I spend most of my time in the New York City area. I'm hoping Xohm will come here soon. Portland, Ore., is reportedly the next city to get a 4G network -- just after the new year. This new network will be branded Clearwire (CLWR) "Clear."

When Sprint and Clearwire's asset merger is fully completed, the Xohm brand will be phased out and the Baltimore network's name will be changed to Clear as well. The new venture has received $3.2 billion from Comcast (CMCSA), Intel (INTC), Time Warner Cable (TWC), Google (GOOG) and Bright House Networks.

The U300 modem will sell for $149.99 with a two-year contract, after a $50 mail-in rebate. The new 4G service will set you back an extra $20 a month on any Sprint Mobile Data plan. Beginning Dec. 21, you can purchase the modem from the Sprint direct business sales force, most Baltimore-area Sprint stores and select Baltimore- area retailers. In January, the device will also be available in Baltimore-area Best Buy (BBY) stores.

All this is fine for medium-sized cities like Baltimore and Portland. But I'm hoping that we'll see these speeds when 4G gets to large cities -- especially New York. The sooner the better.

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