YouTube at 80 MPH with Sprint’s mobile broadband

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YouTube at 80 MPH with Sprint’s mobile broadband

Opinion – Everyday, millions of people check their emails, watch YouTube videos and chat on Skype, but imagine doing that while speeding 80 miles-per-hour down the San Diego freeway.  No it’s not a dream, but something I actually did while testing out Sprint’s mobile broadband service.

Sprint EVDO mobile broadband …

Sprint’s EVDO service piggybacks data transmission over mobile phone towers and claims download speeds of up 600 kilobits to 1.4 megabits per second in updated or Rev. A areas.  Subscribers must purchase a broadband card, select a service plan and agree to a one-year commitment.  Since I’m a data junkie, I picked the $60/month unlimited data plan.

While EVDO has been available for a while, I’ve been steadfastly against buying the service for several months because I figured that I had enough connectivity.  After all, I was a T-Mobile Hotspot subscriber which gave me fast wireless access at most Starbucks coffee shops, Borders book stores and some airports.  I also used to have Nextel Blackberry service which worked well for quickly perusing new emails.  But as of yesterday I’ve cancelled both the T-Mobile and Nextel service because the EVDO service is just that good.

Surprisingly (or maybe not surprisingly), the worst thing about EVDO is buying the darn card.  I thought that it would be a simple matter of walking into the nearest Sprint store and spending just a few moments buying a card and activating the service – but this turned into a 45 minute odyssey.  Picking a card was easy because I needed one with a USB connection.  Sprint also sells broadband wireless cards for both ExpressCard and PCMCIA slots.  I settled for the Sierra Wireless Aircard 595U for $150 and a $50 mail-in rebate.. argh something that I haven’t yet sent in for.

The salesman’s computer system wouldn’t let me activate the card because I already had a Nextel phone subscription.  Remember that Sprint and Nextel recently merged, so apparently they haven’t ironed out all the problems yet.  He tried calling 2nd level support, but was placed on hold for 15 minutes.  Finally he said, “The hell with this” and made me a fresh Sprint account.

Installation was fairly simple and I downloaded Sprint’s Connection Manager software and popped in the lithium-ion battery into the AirCard.  The card’s large size seems to put a lot of strain on the USB port, but you can also plug the card into a USB docking cradle (although this is an extra piece of gear that mobile road warriors probably won’t want to carry).  Another downside is the Aircard will probably block another USB port since most laptops will place two ports next to each other – either side by side or on top of each other.

Ok so how well do the service work?  Inside my apartment in Playa Del Rey, I’m able to get download speeds 1100 to 1200 kilobits/second and uploads at 100 to 200 kb/sec, something that is comparable to a lower-grade DSL line.  Now the latency is noticeable and webpages can sometimes take several seconds to appear.

Can you game on this?  YES!  I fired up World of Warcraft and logged onto my level 70 warrior “Ganden” on the Medivh server.  The latency bar remained at yellow and seldom ventured into red territory.  Questing and instance runs weren’t a problem at all, but battlegrounds can be dicey.

Stationary apartment use is easy, but how well did it function on the road.  I rode shotgun with Twitchguru editor Rob Wright down to San Diego and found the modem’s connection to be rock solid the entire trip.  I easily checked my email, filed two news articles and chatted on Skype at freeway speeds.  At one point we pushed the limit and streamed YouTube videos – with no buffering delays – at 80 MPH driving past Long Beach.

Yes the service is expensive, but it’s allowed me to save $30/month by cancelling T-Mobile Hotspot and $110/month by killing my Nextel Blackberry contract.  With T-Mobile, I first had to find a Starbucks to get wi-if and then I usually bought a $4+ Frappuccino inside the store.  Those drinks get expensive!  As for the BlackBerry, it just doesn’t make sense to pay $110 for rinky-dink email access and response when I can fire up the full power of my laptop and type meaningful replies.

As a traveling journalist the EVDO service has actually saved the company tons of money because convention centers and hotels often charge $10 or more a day for wireless Internet.  Case in point, all of our recent Comic Con coverage was submitted entirely through EVDO while our Twichguru buddies had to spend money for both hotel and convention center wi-fi.  Keynote speeches are also notorious for blocking wireless access (hello Sony, can you hear me?) and if they do have wi-fi it’s going to be insanely slow because of the hundreds of journalists trying to file stories at once.

Summary: Sprint EVDO rocks and is truly wireless without limitations.  The transmission speeds are fast enough.  I have complete freedom and can file my stories on the move.  I no longer have to reserve rooms at hotels with Internet and I don’t have to go to Starbucks to get Wi-Fi.

Full Disclosure Notice: We paid full price for the card at the local Sprint/Nextel store at the Westside Pavilion Mall in Los Angeles.  We are also paying the full $60/month for the unlimited data plan.