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Summary:

Sprint’s Overdrive isn’t going to be the only game in town when it comes to sharing 4G WiMAX with multiple devices. Novatel Wireless tested it’s new MiFi prototype and it offers great speeds. Will more and faster 4G devices bring bandwidth caps sooner?

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Now that it looks like 2010 will bring a sizeable coverage jump in large markets for U.S. WiMAX, Novatel Wireless is ready to join the game. Today the company announced testing results from a prototype 4G WiMAX MiFi device — bits and bytes traveled at a whopping 18 Mbps during the test, so the hardware is clearly capable of handling those fast network speeds. Will you see those speeds with a 4G MiFi? Not likely unless the 4G providers can offer it from an infrastructure standpoint. But if they can, Novatel Wireless says their prototype MiFi is ready — theoretical peaks of 30 Mbps down and 10 Mbps up are supported.

Regardless of the speeds, I know that many of our readers are happy just to know that another 4G MiFi device is in the works. After James reviewed a 3G MiFi last year, he quickly purchased one for his daily use. Many readers did the same and have called the MiFi their “gadget of the year.” And why not when it’s easy to use — just press a button to connect to a 3G network which is shareable by five devices over WiFi. I’ve actually just added one to my gadget bag this very week, having bought a barely used device from Matt Miller. Since my 2-year Verizon contract for 3G was up late last year, I simply did an online activation of the new MiFi and swapped it with my old USB727 adapter. I’m still paying the same $59.95 per month, but can now share the data plan across multiple devices and I still have the freedom of a month-to-month deal.

That freedom may be useful when the 4G MiFi devices from Novatel arrives. I could drop my 3G plan without an early termination fee and make the move. Technically, I could do that now with Sprint’s Overdrive, which is similar to the Novatel prototype — it too functions as a 4G hotspot with supporting coverage and falls back to 3G as needed. For now, I’m playing a waiting game because the 4G coverage isn’t where I need it. And regardless of coverage, there’s only one game in town until Novatel brings their product to market. By the time that happens we’ll know if Sprint and Clearwire need to put monthly bandwidth caps in place — at the moment, the 4G component of the Overdrive plan is unlimited. Clearwire is shooting to blanket 120 million people this year with WiMAX and as more devices like Novatel’s 4G MiFi and the anticipated HTC Supersonic phone jump on, there could be constraints imposed in the near future.

How about it curent and prospective MiFi owners — are you salivating over the prospect of another 4G MiFi option?

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  1. Uncapped 4G will definitely bring the potential out of a shared hotspot device like this. Much more than the current 3G hardware that is capped by providers at a measly 5GB. I would love to see this device working at full speed.

    Problem is, 4G is yet to arrive in the biggest city in the US. Until providers get their act together and blanket the greater LA area, there’s no way folks like me can even consider a purchase, much less a 2-year commitment.

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