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Sure Sprint’s data will be unlimited, but will it be fast?

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The web is agog at the return of unlimited data plans for the iPhone, thanks to Sprint (s s) confirming today that it will offer unlimited plans for the upcoming iPhone 4S (s aapl). Those unlimited plans won’t come with throttling, either confirms a Sprint spokeswoman. But, while we’re pretty confident that Sprint’s network can handle that, will consumers be able to handle Sprint’s network?

Sprint operates a 3G network using CDMA technology, which currently delivers ¬†theoretical downlink speeds of¬†between about 3 Mbps and 700 kbps. And thanks to having less coverage in some areas it means that the iPhone experience on Sprint might be slightly worse than the iPhone experience on Verizon (s vz) and actually a lot slower than the experience for folks using AT&T’s upgraded HSPA+ network. That’s because while the CDMA radio inside the phone is stuck using the much slower CDMA speeds, the GSM radio is tuned to take advantage of HSDPA with theoretical downlink speeds of 14.4 Mbps.

So for those users, there’s a big difference in how fast a YouTube clip loads (and how fast you’ll go through that data cap.) The trade-off on AT&T is that all voice and data traffic goes over the same network, which is what initially helped drive the poor voice experience for AT&T. Verizon and Sprint’s CDMA networks separate voice and data which is why the calling quality was never the issue it was for Ma Bell.

It may be that Verizon will be the bigger loser here as Sprint can take those who care more about price and data away from the Big Red, while those who are ready to sacrifice their hard-earned cash for a faster web experience run to AT&T.

7 Responses to “Sure Sprint’s data will be unlimited, but will it be fast?”

  1. trollCall

    Data caps will only be exhausted “faster” if the data usage behavior of the user CHANGES. The faster speeds only enable the user to load things faster. But that does not mean that more data gets consumed without CHANGES in the the usage BEHAVIOR which would be watching more videos, loading more web pages, using web connected apps more, etc. Don’t spread FUD about exhausting caps without explaining what about the users behavior would bring that about, because the cause of that isn’t faster data speeds from HSDPA or 4G LTE. Data is data. The sizes of web pages don’t change, whether one uses CDMA or GSM. It’s the same amount of data at different speeds that’s it. My wife and I have Verizon LTE phones and have the same usage per month as we had before because we still have the same data usage habits as before. Users’ habits would have to change for them to exceed their data caps “faster.” Most users don’t reach 50% of their monthly data allowances now.

    • My assumption (which I should have explained) is that faster speeds cause people to use the web more. So you are correct that if a person does the exact same activity they will be fine, but I personally hold back on a lot of mobile browsing because the experience is too slow today.

    • Grant Buell

      Of course, people getting their first iPhones are very likely to see their usage patterns change. iOS devices account for a way larger proportion of mobile web browsing activity than is proportional for their marketshare.

  2. mindctrl

    Sprint’s 3G network is already slow. I imagine it’s only going to get worse. I’m looking forward to moving off Sprint after being with them for years. Their network has gotten worse each year, and I’ve finally had enough.

  3. Peter Mullen

    Good. Stay away so you won’t clog my Sprint network I’ve been on for 12 years. That’s it, Sprint is slower than freaking molasses. Stay on your awesome AT&T network.