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If you’re the kind of road warrior who has spent an hour driving around aimlessly looking for an unsecured wireless router to check your email, it might be time to invest in EVDO service.
EVDO, which stands for evolution data optimized, offers “broadband-like” speeds using the CDMA mobile phone network. Such technology has been available for some time but never at the affordable prices it is today.
Sprint’s Mobile Broadband package is available two ways: $40 for 40MB of usage and one-tenth of a cent per additional kilobyte, or all you can eat for $60 (provided you have a voice account with Sprint.)
Sprint claims the largest market coverage with 212 markets and 481 airports, but like any wireless service, your mileage will vary greatly. We conducted our testing in the San Francisco Bay Area and had no connectivity problems using Sprint’s EVDO service and the company’s new PC-5740 PC Card made by UTStarcom. The card is the cheapest Sprint offers at $230, but the company shaves off $150 when you sign up for a two-year plan. The PC-5740 features an integrated fixed antenna, but there’s no support for an external antenna. Folks who have newer notebooks that feature only ExpressCard slots are out of luck right now.
Just plug the PC-5740 into a PC Card slot, activate the card, and you’re ready to hit the Internet anywhere there’s coverage. Of course, the “broadband-like” descriptor used by both Sprint and Verizon (the two largest EVDO vendors) set off some alarm bells. Sort of the way your whiskers would twitch hearing the phrases “meat-like,” “almost like butter,” and “pretty-much fresh.”
In practice, however, we found the data throughput to perform as well as cheap broadband. That is, we saw speeds competitive with 1.5Mb/s DSL packages (we’re talking 100Kb/s real-world downloads). Not bad, but we were a little relieved to get home and back on our 3Mb/s DSL line. Sprint rates EVDO at 400kb/s to 2Mb/s with reception being an important factor in speeds. We never saw 2Mb/s, in our tests, and even if we did, we wouldn’t be inclined to replace our hard-wired broadband with wireless.
But road warriors who have no problem shelling out cash for hotspot fees at Starbucks and airports will find Sprint’s EVDO to be a better and probably cheaper alternative. And we have to admit, it’s pretty nifty to stand in the middle of a park and access the Internet.
Month Reviewed: July 2006