Sprint's Pocket-Size Wi-Fi Hotspot-Maker

When I tried getting on the Internet from the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) press room, the Wi-Fi network was far too congested. But it's not keeping me from getting online. I'm carrying around a high-seed Wi-Fi network in my pocket.

On the eve of CES, Sprint announced its Overdrive3G/4G Mobile Hotspot - a 3.15 by 3.14 by .61 inch, 4.5 ounce device that creates its own Wi-Fi hotspot that can serve up to five Wi-Fi enabled devices with a range of about 150 feet. I'm using it now with my laptop, an iPhone and the new Google Nexus One. Like many smart phones, the iPhone and Nexus One support Wi-Fi.

Full Coverage of CES 2010

The device uses both Sprint's 3G and 4TG networks. 3G, which supports speeds up to 3 Mbps, is available in most parts of the country. Typically 3G runs between .5 and 1.5 megabits per second (Mbps) Sprint's 4G network, which, in theory, can operate at up to 10 Mbps is currently available in 27 markets including Las Vegas but will be rolled out nationwide during 2010. By the end of the year, Sprint says its 4G network will reach as many as 120 million people in the U.S.

Will Free Wi-Fi Become the Norm?

Sprint is the first U.S. carrier to offer 4G through its majority ownership of Clearwire. Sprint and Clearwire are using the WiMax technology. Verizon and AT&T plan to start rolling out their 4G networks later this year using Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology.

Actual performance of any Internet connection depends on a variety of factors including the speed of the Internet connection, the distance between you and the Wi-Fi hotspot, the number of people on the hotspot and some things beyond your control including the speed of the site you're visiting and any Internet congestion between you and the site. Sprint says that average speeds are between 3 and 6 Mbps. In my tests using SpeedTest.net, I was able to get download speeds between 2 Mbps and 5 Mbps (depending on my location) and upload speeds ranging from 500 kbps to 1 Mbps. As a point of reference, home DSL internet speeds typically range from 1 to 2 megabits per second while cable modem services are typically between 2 and 20 Mbps. As far as real world tests are concerned, I had no problems streaming video from Netflix, YouTube and CBSNews.com.

This isn't the first portable Wi-Fi hotspot adapter. There are several 3G devices the work on Verizon, Sprint and AT&T networks. What's new about this is that it supports s 4G in those markets where it is available. The device also has a MicroSD slot that allows you to insert a storage card (up to 16 gigabytes) to share that day with any device on your Overdrive Wi-Fi network. It also has an LCD screen that displays network status. In addition to supporting Wi-Fi the device can also be connected via a USB port which charges its battery and provides for a more secure direct connection. While it's connected by USB you have the option leaving Wi-Fi on (for others to use) or turning it off. Even when connected via Wi-Fi you can control the number of users (between 1 and 5) and no one can connect to your network without your password.

The Overdrive 3G/4G, manufactured by Sierra Wireless, is available for $99. Sprint's 3G and 4G service costs $59.99 a month.

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