First off, let me just say that I’m a Verizon junky. I love Verizon. They DO have a Map for That! Great service, great devices (I have the BlackBerry Storm2) and reliable connections and speeds. That’s my disclaimer! (I hate AT&T, dislike T-Mobile and have never really thought much about Sprint except that they run on the “same” network technology as Verizon, just not as thorough of service coverage).
On December 8th I went to the Social Media Club Seattle event on the Microsoft campus. Well, there was an “after party” sponsored by Spring 4G. I’ve never been much of a Sprint guy, but thought I’d go and check it out anyway. I’ve heard some good things about 4G WiMax and really wanted to see what it was really like. That evening they had a 6 computer work station setup with Sprint U300 4G dongles (aircards that plug into your USB port) and I could not believe it when I did a speed test (the first and only thing I went directly to do) and saw it clock at 3.2 Mbps. At the time I was told that was “a bit slow” by the Sprint rep, since apparently “good” signal strength can yield around 7-9 Mbps!! That’s INSANE! That’s 2x-3x faster than my home cable internet service… and it’s over the air!! So, fascinated by the speed I experienced, I introduced myself to Jon (District Sales Manager) (@WSthHouse)and David (Store Manager at Northgate Way) (@Bonjour206). These two are amazing guys. Very nice, very straight shooting all around fun to hang out with.
So, I kept up twitter conversations with the two of them and a few days later David came to a #ColdPavement event in Belltown to hang out and so I could pick his brain some more. I was basically digging for the weaknesses of 4G. I did find out that some buildings do have penetration issues, so in those situations you’ll really need to be closer to windows (not so appealing an idea). Other than that I couldn’t tell what the downsides could be since the service is only $59.99 a month (and completely mobile, unlike my home service).
After some thought of the subsequent days I decided that Friday night (last night) I’d take the plunge, go to the Sprint Northgate Way store and grab me some 4G. Why not? I’m going to be temporarily moving into a rental condo (I own it, but it’s been rented out over the past three years) and I don’t want to sign up for TV, telephone and internet while I’m trying to sell the unit. So, this three inch dongle (three inches of speedy joy) could make that situation a lot nicer.
HOWEVER, Friday afternoon I discovered online through several different forums that the U300 has been having driver issues with Windows 7! Ot oh! I have Windows 7 on my laptop! YIKES! I shot David a text message asking what his proposed work around would be… “No problem, a new update software update was released on Dec 14 with Windows 7 drivers. You’ll be fine!” Phew! Saved the day! Just when I thought I’d have to drop the whole thing, David rushes to the resque.
So, I get to the store around 5:30pm. David is with a customer. One of his sales monkeys RUNS over to ask, “Hey! How can I help you guys today?” (I brought my friend Josh with me, @JoshITGuy since he’s an IT Consultant and pretty savvy on networking and computer stuff) I just told him that we were waiting for David and would browse while we waited. Keep in mind Josh is also a Sprint junky. Has been with Sprint for a long time (albeit one minor blip when he jumped ship to AT&T for an iPhone only to find out that AT&T sucks… that didn’t last long fortunately). So, of course while “we” are browsing Josh is drooling over the BlackBerry Tour on display (with a dead battery unfortunately) and frantically wondering if David will be able to upgrade his soon to be obsolete 8330 to the shiny new Tour!
So, after about 15 minutes of wait for David to finish up with a customer (found out later he had been on a customer support call for a customer for 1 hour 10 minutes), he came over and we started the process. He took us to the display and started showing us around the speed tests and all that, but I stopped him to say I’d already gone through it and had already made up my mind. David ran into the back room and came out with a shiny black box that had my new toy inside. Amazingly helpful, he says, “Well, this could take a few minutes to get setup because I’ll have to activate it and there’s a ‘Welcome’ message on there that I’ll have to get removed. For some reason, just like with our phones, Sprint puts a welcome message on the aircards. This doesn’t affect the 3G cards, but for some reason it prevents the 4G card from connecting and can be problematic if I don’t take care of it before you leave.” (WOW, it takes guts to admit that there’s a glitch in the system, even if you know how to get it resolved). So he takes 15-20 minutes on the phone with a support rep to get this all taken care of, he says things are working fine. But, I had my Windows 7 laptop WITH me. (Smart cookie I am… make him get the software and make sure it’s working before I leave the store.) So, he tells us that the software will take a little time to download and install.
So, while the download and install is taking place the three of us run out to grab a quick bite to eat and return to my laptop within the hour to have pristine Windows 7 compatible software on my laptop. We walk in, install the software and within 15 minutes we’re connected to 4G and smokin the interwebs!
Oh, did I mention that while David was working with the customer support on the phone he was setting up my friend Josh with his new BlackBerry Tour? Yeah, miracle worker! He was able to get Josh’s renew date bumped by a few days to have him walking out with a powerful new BlackBerry Tour… all while on hold for my “Welcome Message” issue.
So, I got back late last night to the house I’m staying at on the top of Queen Anne hill in Seattle, immediately cranked up my laptop and plugged in the dongle. Immediately went to the Speakeasy Speed Test site, fired it up, hit test… ONLY 1.8Mbps. I was devastated (and very tired).
This morning I woke up, went down to the laptop again, did the speed test three times: 2.8Mbps, 3.4Mbps, and 3.8Mbps! WOW! Holy smokes Batman! I’m stoked!
(In the image above, the Green number is my tested download speed and the Red number is my tested upload speed)
So, after a thrilling customer service experience with David and a great (and fast) experience with Sprint 4G, I’m a happy boy!
Did I mention that I’m happy? Just want to be sure you understand that.
So, just as a disclaimer, Sprint 4G is not all that widespread yet. It does cover most of the “I-5 corridor” from Bellingham down through Lakewood (just south of Tacoma) according to the service maps. And it’s in a few other markets around the country. But if you have this service and this dongle, it also does connect to their 3G data service too (although seems much slower in comparison now that I’m spoiled). Take a stroll over to the Sprint Coverage Maps to see if their 4G service is in your market yet.
Good luck and happy surfing!
UPDATE: I forgot to mention the efforts that my dear friend Brian Westbrook put into making the Spring 4G “SMC After Dark” party work out flawlessly! Great job Brian!