Just how much faster is 4G, anyway? We compare Sprint's 3G and 4G networks. By Brian Nadel
December 15, 2010 06:00 AM ET22 Comments. What's this?.Computerworld - Mobile workers who need always-on Internet access -- and who don't want to rely on public Wi-Fi hot spots -- often turn to a cellular network for connectivity, using either a 3G-equipped notebook or an external 3G modem. Now carriers are touting faster fourth-generation wireless networks as the next phase of mobile computing. But to make use of the new networks, you have to buy a 4G-capable device or modem and a new, often more-expensive service plan.
Is it worth the hassle and expense of upgrading to 4G? To answer that question, I pitted Sprint's WiMax service -- the first 4G service available in the New York metropolitan area, where I live -- against its 3G network in a series of real-world tests (see "How I tested").
Sprint 4G: What you need
As is the case with any wireless service, you need three things to get access: a network, a device for connecting and a service plan. Available in 62 cities, from Everett, Wash., to Tampa, Fla., Sprint's WiMax wireless service in the U.S. is known as Clear and is operated by Clearwire; it's based on the IEEE 802.16e specification. The network provides adequate coverage on the coasts (see map), but it's hit or miss in the middle of the country, and there are 12 states with no Sprint 4G service at all.
When you can't get a 4G connection, the fallback is to use Sprint's 3G network, which is based on EV-DO (Evolution Data Optimized) technology. It's available in all 50 states, although -- as is the case with other 3G networks -- there are huge holes in the upper Midwest. Sprint says that over the next two years, it will fill out a national 4G network.
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