27 April 2010

Wi-Fi Wherever You Go!!

I recently wrote an article for this site about the differences between 3G and 4G and what those differences would mean for the consumer. Apparently someone at Sprint read the piece, because soon after it was published, they emailed me to see if I would like to “test drive” their Overdrive 3G/4G unit.

I was behind the steering wheel at the time and asked my daughter to text back, “Yes, of course I would.”

The reason was twofold. First, the Overdrive connects any mobile phone or laptop to a Sprint 3G or 4G connection. The Sprint 4G network is limited to select cities at the moment, but the Overdrive also connects to Sprint’s 3G network, which is available nationwide.

Secondly, the Overdrive device creates a Wi-Fi hot spot capable of supporting a total of five connections. In order to use the Overdrive device, which is about the size of a square drink coaster, you must purchase a data plan with Sprint, but you don’t need a Sprint mobile account or phone to access the 3G/4G offering.

My 14-year-old daughter immediately understood the importance of such a device. “You mean I can use my computer in the car and do everything I do at home?” she asked.

“Yes.” Suddenly I realized that in addition to ignoring me in the house, she would be able to ignore me in the car.

For optimal omission, I suggested that we drive through 4G territory, which is exactly what we did to test this device.

Sprint presently has 4G service deployed across Baltimore and Philadelphia and has plans to extend this coverage to Washington D.C. and New York City by the end of 2010.

Our trip began just outside of Baltimore. I placed the device on my dashboard, turned it on and then connected to it as one would connect to any Wi-Fi device. We picked up 4G almost immediately. I should point out that my daughter used her laptop and I used my iPhone. And no, I wasn’t looking at my iPhone while driving. Instead, I queued up a video and several podcasts for download and then let the Overdrive and iPhone do their thing while I drove.

Users of an iPhone already know that Apple does not permit you to download a file larger than 19MB using the AT&T 3G network. But the iPhone recognizes the Overdrive as a Wi-Fi hot spot and so sidesteps any file size limitations. The video I downloaded from iTunes was a 600MB TV show. The two podcasts were roughly 34MB each. By the time I reached my final destination of Newtown, Penn., two hours and 15 minutes later, all three files were sitting on my iPhone.

My daughter did what teenage girls do when they have a laptop and connectivity – Facebook.

I showed the Overdrive device to my 16-year-old son, who attends a boarding school in Newtown, and he too understood the importance of such a device in his life. “Dad, if I had that, I could get around the school’s firewall restrictions!”

He was right, since the Sprint data network operates outside of the wireless and wired networks on his campus. I spoke to some of the IT folks at his school and they confirmed that a few students were already using the Overdrive device and doing exactly that – getting around the school-based restrictions. Kids are certainly quick when it comes to technology.

In the past three weeks, I have driven between Washington, D.C. and New York City eight times and have used the Overdrive not only during these drives, but also at locations where there was no publically available Wi-Fi. Even at 3G speeds, I was able to use my laptop for most purposes. When connected to 4G, my access to Youtube and to data downloads was very good.

Once, out along the New Jersey turnpike, I used an iPhone app that scans for Wi-Fi connections, and wouldn’t you know it? I saw several other Overdrive units out there. So already, people on the cutting edge of technology are seeing the value of this unit. It won’t be long before other consumers see it as well.

Glenn Strachan is an international and domestic development expert who specializes in ICT, broadband and health information systems and has traveled to 98 countries. When not Twittering (@glennstrachan) or Facebooking, he reads email on glenn@glennstrachan.com.