15 Comments

Summary:

If you’re always looking for a Wi-Fi connection while on the road, Sprint suggests that you make your own Wi-Fi network with the Overdrive 3G/4G Mobile Hotspot by Sierra Wireless. The folks at Sprint kindly lent me a hotspot to try out, and I was impressed.

If you’re always looking for a Wi-Fi connection while on the road, Sprint suggests that you make your own Wi-Fi network with the Overdrive™ 3G/4G Mobile Hotspot by Sierra Wireless. The folks at Sprint kindly lent me a hotspot to try out, and I was impressed.

You probably already have a wireless router in your home or office that connects to a cable or DSL Internet connection and broadcasts a signal that can be received wirelessly by laptops and Wi-Fi-enabled mobile devices like the iPod touch. The Overdrive hotspot works the same way, but instead of using a wired connection, it sends and receives Internet signals through Sprint’s high-speed 3G and 4G data networks. It’s similar to the Verizon MiFi, although it can connect with faster 4G speeds and is slightly bulkier.

The hardware looks very simple. It’s a 3-1/4″ square box with rounded corners, about 5/8″ deep, and weighing around 5 ounces. It’s small enough to fit in a trouser or jacket pocket, and although it gets slightly warm while in use, it never seems to get uncomfortably hot.

The hotspot comes with an AC adapter for charging, some simple instructions, and not much else. There’s a surprisingly-bright display about 1-1/4″ square, where data is displayed, including the Wi-Fi network name — it defaults to something like “Overdrive-321″, but both the network name and password can be changed. The network password is displayed on the screen, too, although that can be turned off for additional security. The screen also displays data about signal strength, whether one is connected via 3G or 4G, the hotspot’s battery level, and the amount of bandwidth one has used during the current session.

Since the Overdrive only has one “power” button, all configuration changes must be done via a web-based control panel. In the web interface, one can change the administrative password, the password needed to log into the Wi-Fi network it creates, and the type of security used (including several variants of WEP, WPA-Personal, and WPA2-Personal). One can also change the WAN settings to specify whether the hotspot will connect to Sprint’s data network via 3G only, 4G only, 3G preferred or 4G preferred. With that last setting, the hotspot will fall back to a 3G connection if 4G is not available, although switching between networks can take several seconds.

The Overdrive’s web-based control panel worked with all of the browsers I tried, including Mobile Safari on my iPod touch. That’s useful, since it allows one to change the hotspot’s settings without firing up a laptop. Annoyingly, however, changing the hotspot’s default settings requires rebooting the device, which can take 20-30 seconds.

At my home office in a residential neighborhood in Seattle, I got a 4G connection that the Overdrive’s control panel listed as “Good (40%).” According to speedtest.net, my download speed varied between 1.2 and 1.7 Mb/s, and upload speed ranged between 0.6 and 0.8 Mb/s. While this is significantly slower than the cable connection I usually use (and is also slower than the CLEAR 4G modem I reviewed a couple of weeks ago), I was able to connect to a remote computer using Hamachi and do basic work with minimal delays. I also tested the device while on the go: I was able to use the hotspot successfully on an Amtrak train between Seattle and Bellingham, Wash., although I found it best to set the hotspot to “3G only” mode.

Sprint says that one can connect up to five devices simultaneously to the Overdrive hotspot. I only tried two — a laptop running Windows 7, and an iPod touch. Both worked well. Sprint claims that the device broadcasts a Wi-Fi signal for up to 150 feet, which I didn’t test, but I was able to connect easily in the next room.

I got about 3-4 hours from a charge, and the hotspot is usable while it’s plugged in. Sprint says that the Overdrive has a standby time of about 36 hours.

I didn’t test the device’s built-in GPS, but that’s only operational only on the 3G network. I also didn’t test the MicroSD slot can be set up as a “network drive,” of up to 16 GB.

As of this writing, Sprint’s 4G coverage is still quite limited: it’s offered in cities in 11 states. Sprint is selling the Overdrive 3G/4G Mobile Hotspot for $99 with a two-year contract. Sprint’s data plans start at $59.99 per month, which includes “unlimited” 4G bandwidth (with the usual disclaimers), plus 5GB per month of 3G usage, and up to 300MB roaming usage.

If you’re in a Sprint 4G area and don’t want to wait for the upcoming 4G EVO phone, or like the idea of using Sprint’s 4G network to connect the devices you already have via Wi-Fi, the Overdrive 3G/4G hotspot may be for you.

If you use an Overdrive hotspot, let us know how you get on with it.

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): 4G: State of the Union

  1. I moved to an Overdrive for a recent trip and it worked extremely well. 4G wasn’t available but it was the sharing that I needed and that part of it was flawless.

    Over a couple of days of heavy use I did have a couple drop / restarts but I attributed that more to location / weather than the hardware.

    Overall, I’m really impressed with it. When I don’t need the wi-fi I would still prefer the convenience of my old Novatel card which required no charging or cords, but the benefits certainly outweigh any of that.

    sb

    Share
    1. Charles Hamilton Monday, April 19, 2010

      Scott, I’m glad you like the Overdrive, too. I just returned from buying one at the local Sprint store.

      Share
  2. [...] jacket was, well, pretty silly. However, now that I regularly carry a cell phone, an iPod touch, an Overdrive mobile hotspot, a camera, and an e-book reader, I’m beginning to see how having a lot of pockets can be [...]

    Share
  3. [...] jacket was, well, pretty silly. However, now that I regularly carry a cell phone, an iPod touch, an Overdrive mobile hotspot, a camera, and an e-book reader, I’m beginning to see how having a lot of pockets can be [...]

    Share
  4. [...] Windows servers through Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Connection. I’ll be using the Sprint Overdrive hotspot for connectivity, and although I’m sure that there will be places with no signal, Sprint has [...]

    Share
  5. Just wanted to mention that people might want to ask Sprint about data caps on the Sprint Overdrive and wireless internet cards. I think the cap is at 5g. To avoid the cap, you can do as I did and buy the Sprint HTC EVO phone. It allows you to connect up to 8 devices. There are no data caps. And the phone itself has so many features on it that it might as well be a miniature notebook. I love it. It does run 3g/4g and though speedtest.net shows it running slower than my other satellite wireless internet connection (in a 3g area) I heven’t noticed any difference. I have been unable to test in a 4g area, though I’m sure it would be impressive.

    Share
  6. [...] to check my email and keep up with Twitter, Facebook and RSS feeds on my iPod touch connected to a Sprint Overdrive hotspot. Amtrak does offer Wi-Fi on the Acela trains, and the service has been so popular that it will be [...]

    Share
  7. hola!! en realidad espero me ayuden porque hace algunos dias eh tenido un problema con mi overdrive.Se supone que es restringido no publico y hace 3 dias ya no pide password osea cualquier computadora puede conectarse a internet sin pedir contrasena… que puedo hacer para que mi internet no sea publico??? si no resringido otravez!!

    Share
  8. [...]        0 I’ve been on the road a lot lately, and much as I like my Overdrive hotspot, its battery life is limited. So I decided to buy the ZAGGsparq 2.0, which acts as a backup battery [...]

    Share
  9. 4G at less than 2mbps? Things are different over here. I get 20-60mbps when I have 4G connection, which is anywhere in the city center, even 3G never drops under 2mbps.

    I’m guessing 4G means different things depending on tech provider.

    Share
  10. To Trisha,

    I too have the HTC EVO 4G phone. But I can not connect it to my laptop. When i turn on the hot spot feature I keep getting and error code saying that my pcs user name and password is incorrect. Can you help out, since you’re seems to be working?

    Share

Comments have been disabled for this post