Sprint & Clear Light Up Houston With 4G Wireless

You know what they say about a fool and his money…soon parted. Or was that “soon partying?” I can never recall.

It seems that Sprint & partner Clear have just launched their 4G/Wimax service here in Houston. Not too long ago I noted that the service was already offered in places like Austin and Lubbock (Yes, Lubbock!) but not in the major cities.

Houston is the 4th largest city in the country and covers a lot of ground. The Sprint press release claims the 1,900 square miles are now covered, or over 4 million people. Clearly, this launch had to be a major undertaking.

The trouble is that I’m only 7 months into a 2 year contract with Sprint for 3G wireless using a Novatel Mifi. I was tempted into the service by Andy Abramson who tweeted about a free hardware deal in early August.

I am soooo open to influence in some cases.

I can’t complain. The service has been solid and very handy. In fact, my employer went from snubbing it as inappropriate to buying a couple more for other members of our field staff. Now we don’t pay per-night for hotel-based internet access if the staff member in question carries a 3G device.

We’ve even used the Mifi devices to provide internet access for trade show displays where we truly needed connectivity, but didn’t want to succumb to the extortion attempts of the facilities local network provider.

What troubles me is the fact that I could get on the 4G wireless in various parts of the country if only I upgraded my hardware. The Mifi is 3G only. I’d need the Sprint U301 USB dongle (pictured above) or the newer Novatel OverDrive (left), which is essentially a 3G/4G equivalent to the Mifi.

Being less than half way through my contract there’s no upgrade possibility. I’d be paying almost full price for the hardware. That’s around $200 for the USB stick or $300 for the OverDrive device. Clearly, ya gotta really want or need the improved speed in 4G areas.

Perhaps the real advantage is the fact that on 3G networks the Mifi is capped at 5GB/mo, but with a 3G/4G device the cap is removed when in a 4G zone.

This brings me to reconsider the merits of the Mifi style hotspot device vs the USB stick. I’ve found the Mifi to be handy, but it’s battery life is not great. There have been times when being able to share the access has been handy, but than not the primary use case. It might actually be more convenient to use the USB stick since it gets power from the host platform.

In truth, the Mifi is supposed to get power from the USB port when connected by a cable. Sprint did not provide this cable with the Mifi. I bought one on E-Bay but have never been able to get the device drive to load correctly. I’ve also found that my laptop USB ports don’t provide enough current to charge the Mifi.

So if I were moving to 4G and had to choose hardware again I’m not so sure that I’d select the pocket spot over the USB stick.