Sprint Overdrive — Quick Look

25 Comments

I have been a mobile broadband user for years; I started back in the 1xRTT days as a matter of fact. I’ve watched connections speeds go up over the years, and until recently I was quite happy with the EVDO speeds I enjoy using my Verizon (s vz) MiFi. Sprint (s s) has been madly rolling out WiMAX (4G) all over the U.S., and the recent news that Houston was lit up had me jonesing for a switch to the higher speed. I waffled over the decision to jump from Verizon’s 3G to Sprint’s 4G for a while, so the folks at Sprint decided they would send me a 4G Overdrive modem to test. I’ve only had it for a few hours, and haven’t found any 4G connectivity yet, but here’s a quick look at the Overdrive modem.

The Overdrive is like the MiFi as it is a 3G modem that serves as a Wi-Fi router to allow up to 5 devices to connect to the Sprint network simultaneously. Once the device has been set up to use the Overdrive’s Wi-Fi network, subsequent connections are as easy as hitting the power button on the modem. That’s what makes wireless routers like the Overdrive so compelling, they are easy and will work with any device with Wi-Fi. Oh, and if the Sprint 4G network is active in the area, it connects at those speeds (up to 10 times faster than EVDO). That’s pretty darn compelling, too.

The Overdrive is bigger and thicker than the MiFi, no doubt to fit those extra 4G bits inside. It has a nice LED display on the front that provides full status information, like connection info and battery gauge, which is sadly lacking on the Verizon MiFi. There is also a microSD card on the Overdrive to allow storing media files for streaming over the Overdrive’s Wi-Fi network.

Sadly, the 4G network is not live on my street yet, so I haven’t been able to enjoy that fast speed. The Overdrive tries to find and connect to the 4G network when powered on (which takes a minute), and failing that connects to the Sprint 3G network, which is happening at my home office. When I first checked the Sprint 4G coverage map a couple of weeks ago it showed the area where I live was fully covered with 4G. When I check it today it shows that there is 4G coverage most everywhere around me except on a few blocks surrounding my house. No 4G for me.

My limited testing has only been at home on the 3G network. The speed I am getting on the Sprint 3G (EVDO) network is slower than the Verizon 3G (EVDO) I get on the MiFi, which is disappointing. I wouldn’t mind trading the MiFi for the Overdrive if I didn’t give up any speed at home, but that’s not the case. Of course when 4G gets turned on here — and there’s no indication when that might be — there’s no looking back.

So far I haven’t seen any power problems as some have reported. The Overdrive has been solid in that regard, although it has intermittently dropped the 3G network connection a few times. That has been really annoying as it kills whatever I’m doing at the time. I have to manually tell the device to reconnect to the Overdrive and then I am back online.

I’ll be testing the Overdrive more thoroughly over the next few days, so I’ll find some 4G and report on the speed I get. I’ll also have a look at the Overdrive’s configuration, as every aspect of both the data connection and the Wi-Fi settings can be customized. This may have something to do with the connection drops I’ve seen so far.

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25 Comments

Mike

I had the overdrive for 6 months now. Initially was great but now even after the firmware update it drop the signal left and right. Taking the battery out help for a while but eventually it has to be reset again without knowing how long it will last connected before the next reset. Thinking of giving it up on sprint and switching over to a new carrier. Any suggestions?

waxrash

Run away! My exeperience in NC with the Overdrive is that it is junk. I have the latest firmware, I’ve disabled standy mode, etc. Sitting on a flat surface with AC power, with no movement in the house, it fluctuates from 60% to 40 to 20 to 0 to 40 to 20 to 0 to 60. It makes anything more than basic email reading difficult.

Andry

When you find a 4G area in Houston, see how it does changing towers as your moving. I trialed one for two weeks when they first were released here in DFW and tower-switching was nonexistant. I’d move a few miles in the car and lose the connection and it would have to reconnect. During this time – at least 30 seconds – I’d have no internet access and my vpn would drop. I can drive from here to houston without dropping on my 3G Sprint MiFi. I’m curious to hear is it’s just the Clear 4G coverage in the Keller, Southlake, Watauga suburbs in Northeast Tarrant county or if it’s something inherent in how Wimax works. A wifi connection doesn’t seamlessly jump from one router to another so I’m curious if that’s the same for Wimax or if it’s more like an EVDO connection with seamless switchover…

wally

I bought one this past week because I was travelling to Vegas and wanted to see if it would work better than my AT&T usb dongle/Cradlepoint combo.

What a disappointment! I could never get a 4G connection to stick (yes it has the new firmware) and it was unreliable in general.

I will be returning it as soon as I get back home.

MsJoanne

@Kevin C. Tofel. Thanks, Kevin. I have the weirdest life ever. I spend so much time on the road that there are some months I would use 0, and others I would want to go over 5MB as I would be using this as my primary. I was thinking of replacing my rarely-used DSL at home and replacing it with this. The size limit is a killer for me because sometimes I deliver webinars (not to mention watching Flash videos and things like that, online).

Much appreciated all!

MsJoanne

How much data are you allowed on the Overdrive vs. MiFi? I was unimpressed with the amount of data Verizon allowed on a monthly basis with MiFi. Plus, for me, rollover would cinch it as my needs will vary month to month with some months using 0 and others much more than 250 (or whatever it was) that was allowed. Alas, MiFi didn’t offer that.

I can check Sprint’s site, but I am curious…how has the amount of data transfer allowed worked for you who have something?

Uncle Mikey

It’s a function of plan and system, not device.

Overdrive-on-3G is still limited to 5GB/mo. on Sprint. The difference is that, for the same price as the 5GB/mo. 3G plan, you get truly unlimited data on the 4G network if/when it’s available for you. This is what decided me on getting an Overdrive rather than a MiFi. The device itself was slightly more expensive, but the plan is the same price, and Minneapolis should be getting 4G this summer.

MsJoanne

@Uncle Mikey, thanks for the 411. I knew it wasn’t device specific but I could make neither heads nor tails out of Sprint’s site for usage allowances. I believe that Verizon’s MiFi is significantly larger than 5gig/mo…but I could be wrong.

Uncle Mikey

@DAVEZATZ: with devices like this, battery life is going to depends mainly on three factors:

1] How strong is your received signal (the bars on your display…although I gather the MiFi doesn’t have one)
2] How good is the signal to noise ratio (sadly not displayed by default on any device I’m aware of, although sometimes available with other utilities)
3] What are you actually doing with it.

The first two items are going to determine (by inference) how much power the device needs to use to transmit — that is, if you’ve got a good, clean, strong signal from the tower, chances are the tower’s going to hear your transmitter even if you whisper. It will also reduce the number of incidental messages needed — for example, if you had a weak, noisy signal, your device would be asking frequently for retransmissions of garbled or lost packets.

And of course, if you’re constantly streaming video or music or anything else that’s keeping the device continually processing packets and retransmitting them over your WiFi link to you, then that’s going to use up a lot more power than if you’re just casually surfing the web or reading e-mail using a POP or IMAP client.

I can’t speak for the MiFi, but the Overdrive appears to have a few power-saving tricks for when your link is actually idle. I think some of the WiFi drops that JK is seeing may be the firmware being overzealous about this function. On the other hand, it’s possible that I’m misinterpreting an actual disconnect bug as a powersaving feature :-D But for me, I’ve only ever seen “disconnect” behaviour when I’ve been idle.

BigLance

James – you can find the 4/1 Houston 4G Clear coverage map here: http://bbs.keyhole.com/ubb/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&topic=882010

Clear publishes new maps every Thursday, so this one’s a week behind, but it’s a start. Here’s how to read the layers.
HOU_AOI= Area of Interest – outline of where they want to cover with 4G
725 Sectors – the towers they are targeting to light with 4G,
HOU_On-Air_Sites – the towers already lit – Red is most recent, blue is existing
HOU_OS90_Coverage – outdoor coverage areas – yellow is recent, green existing
HOU_IB90_Coverage – in building (commercial) – supposedly where strong signal can penetrate multi tenant buildings – light blue is recent, purple existing

We recently tested over near Bissonnet and BW8 with a Clear USB and laptop and were getting excellent speed, averaging 7MB down and 2MB up. I was quite impressed, especially while moving. Clear is advertising upstream at 1MB, but this was better than expected.

Luscious

“…haven’t found any 4G connectivity yet…”

LOL :)

I hope you do manage to find a cozy spot somewhere with a 4G footprint, and enjoy a cold one after you get connected.

Gary

James – what kind of battery like r u thinking vs. the Mifi? Thats my only complaint on the Mifi. I want an all day battery.

James Kendrick

I see what looks like a 3 hour battery pace so far. The MiFi gets about 4, but both devices have a user replaceable battery. I’d likely get a second battery for the Overdrive to last most of a day.

Scotty

James,

I get 4 hours on 4G here in Seattle (in the heart of the old Speakeasy WiMAX network now owned by Clear/Sprint) and 3 hours on 3G.

The nice lady at the Sprint store told me to get the new firmware right away and I did. The unit has worked well for me.

I bought the latest Madonna album off iTunes on the iPad and it ticked off 207MB downloading it over 4G. Between iTunes, App Store, Zinio, Netflix and the WSJ I’ve consumed 1GB on the Overdrive’s download meter in one session with no drops. That includes no drops on the iPad’s part either. The iPad’s wifi is rock solid with the Overdrive’s AP and I can walk around quite a bit at the office and still have connectivity without taking the Overdrive with me from my desk (where the 1amp charger keeps it topped up).

Uncle Mikey

I just picked me up one of these this weekend. I was going to go for a MiFi on Sprint, but let them talk me into an Overdrive, since 4G is coming to Minneapolis this summer.

So far, I’m pretty happy with the little beast, but the real test for it will come this week on a business trip. Last time I made this particular trip, I spent a lot of time in the field wishing I had some way to get on the net on something larger than my iPhone. Now, at least in theory, I can. We’ll see how well it works in practice!

Zatz

Yeah, before any new firmware hits let us know how many times you lose signal or have to pull the battery to reset the device.

FYI My Best Buy sells these for $50 on contract, cheaper than the Sprint Store’s $100. Additionally, if you buy an iPad or netbook now, they give it to you free (on contract, of course). Not sure if that’s nationwide or not, or how long it’ll last. Might be a story idea worth tracking down… :)

HG

If you get a chance to do a battery test that would great to see how it really compares to the Verizon MiFi. I went out and picked up the MiFi from Verizon, since Sprint shows no signs of 4G in San Diego area. Besides the lower bTtery life on the OberDrive and connection problems.

Jeremiah

Supposedly there is a new firmware coming VERY soon that will fix the disconnect issue along with the other issues. So hold tight things will get better :)

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