For our tests, we used an 11-inch MacBook Air with the AT&T Mobile Hotspot Elevate 4G ($69.99) made by Sierra Wireless. Unfortunately, time did not permit us to test this setup in any of the optimal locations provided by AT&T, but we did test the hotspot in two locations: the HP campus, and Terminal C in the George Bush International Airport–both of which are quite far from downtown Houston. In both locations, we sat next to a window to conduct our tests.
First, a word about the Elevate 4G: The hotspot is slightly thicker than the Verizon Wireless 4G LTE Hotspot, but barely so, and its two long sides taper to form a trapezoid. With the exception of the LED display, it’s coated in a soft-touch rubber that’s pleasing to hold. The display is made up of LEDs that feel like they were taken from a mid-80s Casio watch, but are bright and convey a lot of information. The panel shows the type of connection (4G or 4G LTE), signal strength, the number of users connected, battery life, the password to access the device, and the amount of data used.
One side has a large power button, as well as a lock. The other side contains a microUSB port to charge the device. Opening the back cover reveals the battery as well as a microSD card slot.
On the HP campus, we only received 2 bars of LTE service, but still saw exceptional throughput on AT&T’s 4G LTE network. Using Speedtest.net, the Elevate 4G hotspot averaged 28.5 Mbps, the lowest speed being 22.1 Mbps and the fastest was 32.2 Mbps. Upload speeds averaged 16.7 Mbps, ranging from 12.5 Mbps up to 18 Mbps.
At the airport, where we also only saw 2-3 bars of service, throughput was equally as fast, but somewhat more inconsistent. Speedtest.net downloads averaged 28.1 Mbps, but ranged from 20.7 all the way to 33.1 Mbps. Uploads averaged 15.7 Mbps, and ranged from 14.4 Mbps to 16.9 Mbps.
We then downloaded the OpenOffice install file, which is 162 MB in size. At HP’s campus, the Elevate 4G took an average of 54 seconds to complete the download, which translates to 24Mbps. The longest it took was 63 seconds, and the fastest time was 51 seconds.
At the airport, our OpenOffice download test also took longer here, too, averaging 1 minute and 41 seconds–a rate of 12.8 Mbps–and ranging from a fairly fast 1:10 all the way up to 2:08.
At the airport, we also timed how long it took to upload the OpenOffice install file to DropBox. The Hostpot completed the transfer in 4 minutes and 40 seconds, a rate of 5.4 Mbps.
Here, we also timed how long it took the MacBook Air to load ESPN.com, NYTimes.com, and laptopmag.com in Safari. We loaded each site five times, and cleared the cache between each test. Laptopmag.com took an average of 4.4 seconds to load, NYTimes.com took 4 seconds, and ESPN.com took just 3.6 seconds to load.
So far using AT&T 4G LTE is like a tale of two networks. In Chicago the speeds were disappointing but in Houston they’re absolutely blazing–though almost no one is using the network right now. Over time we hope AT&T can deliver the same data rates everywhere it offers service.