Mobile Broadband Shootout: T-Mobile HSPA+ Takes on Sprint and Clear 4G


T-Mobile’s webConnect Rocket offered the fast speeds in the locations where it achieved HSPA+ connectivity, but that’s not the end of the story. Each of the three next-gen devices did something better than the others and none was a perfect solution for all users. Which you should choose really depends on your priorities. Here’s how we break it down.

  • T-Mobile webConnect Rocket: We were surprised to the non-4G Rocket outperforming the Sprint / Clear WiMax modems, but this is clearly the fastest device of the three where it has HSPA+ coverage. T-Mobile promises that the “majority of our 3G footprint” will be HSPA+ by the end of 2010, but today the HSPA+ service is limited to Philadelphia proper and does not touch the surrounding area.

    Outside of its HSPA+ zone, the Rocket provides capable 3G connectivity, but it failed on the same train platform where Sprint 3G worked flawlessly.  T-Mobile’s strict 5GB monthly data cap and high .20 per MB overage fee ensure that this $59.99 service ($49.99 if you buy the modem at full price) can only be used to supplement, not replace your main broadband service.

  • Clear 4G USB Modem: Clear offers a really strong combination of value, performance, and ease of use. At present, the company has a much larger next-gen coverage area than T-Mobile, covering not only a larger chunk of the greater Philadelphia area but of 27 different metro areas across the U.S., including Atlanta, Chicago, Las Vegas, and Seattle. By the end of the year, the service will be in many more cities, including New York, San Francisco, Boston, Washington D.C., Houston, Denver, and Minneapolis.

    Since it does not support 3G, the Clear 4G USB modem turns into a colorful ornament outside of Clear’s coverage zones. If you want to buy a Clear modem that also connects to 3G, you’ll need to get the $224.99 Clear 4G+ Mobile USB and pay $55 a month for the dual 3G/4G service.

    The 4G USB modem itself is a joy to use. Everything from the simple software to the vertical orientation of the USB stick, to its attractive status light, makes it a really wonderful device. However, it failed to hold a connection underground and gave weak performance deep inside a building.

    Clear is the only provider here that actually wants to compete with your home broadband provider. In addition to the Clear 4G Mobile USB, Clear offers three different home modems, which promise even higher speeds and even stronger connectivity. For $55 a month, you can get Clear’s Home + On-the-Go plan which lets you have both a powerful home modem and a mobile USB modem running at the same time. We haven’t been able to test the speed of Clear’s home modems, but if they are anywhere close to cable or DSL, the $55 plan is an incredible deal.

  • Sprint OverDrive: Sprint’s device offers a strong combination of performance and convenience, though it is slower than the other devices and less pleasant to use. With combined 3G / 4G service, the OverDrive has all the coverage of Clear’s network combined with Sprint’s own ubiquitous 3G service. Because of its ability to switch to 3G, the OverDrive was able to get a strong signal down on the train platform, where both the Clear modem and T-Mobile webConnect Rocket failed.

    Users who want to connect multiple devices at once will appreciate the OverDrive, because it is a mobile broadband hotspot. However, users who are only carrying a single notebook with them may be annoyed by its bulk and modest battery life. However, for $59.99, Sprint’s combination of unlimited 4G and 5GB of 3G bandwith is quite compelling.

If you want the fastest mobile broadband money can buy and you don’t need to use more than 5GB of bandwidth per month, you might want to consider T-Mobile’s webConnect, though we would suggest waiting to see it roll out in more areas before you buy. If you live within a WiMax zone and want the best value or want to replace your home Internet service, Clear is the obvious choice. However, if you are looking for a device with the broadest coverage across the entire country, then the Sprint OverDrive is the way to go today because of its ability to switch between 3G and 4G.

Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
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  1. Bryce Says:

    So, even with speeds in the 3-5 Mbps range, websites were taking 13 or 14 seconds to load?

  2. עיצוב לוגו Says:

    גשו כבר עכשיו לאתר האינטרנט של studio seven בשביל לפגוש מבחר דוגמאות .

  3. Says:

    Your mode of explaining the whole thing in this paragraph is truly fastidious, all can effortlessly know it,
    Thanks a lot.

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