At long last, it appears 2010 is the year of 4G. Or at least that's what Sprint is hoping for, as it begins on June 4 to roll out the country's first ever 4G phone, the HTC Evo 4G. By most accounts, the phone looks amazing. It promises a 4.3-inch TFT display, a front-facing camera, an 8-megapixel camera on the back, a 1GHz Snapdragon processor, Android 2.1, and so much more.
But let's step back for a second and redefine what 4G means in this case. Sprint's 4G technology is called WiMax, and it stand for Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access. It has close ties to current Wi-Fi technology and is based on a 802.16e wireless standard. WiMax offers a theoretical download speed of up to 10Mbps and peak upload speeds of 1Mbps, though Sprint says that average download speeds will be more like 3 to 6Mbps.
Sprint is the only carrier pursuing WiMax as a 4G technology. The other three--AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile--are going the LTE route. That stands for Long-Term Evolution, and it has a slightly different architecture than WiMax. Existing WiMax hardware would be incompatible with LTE. However, Sprint's CEO Dan Hesse has said that if LTE turns out to be the standard in the future, Sprint would be open to changing over to LTE (unlike GSM/CDMA, the differences between LTE and WiMax are not that vast).
The reason Sprint has been so aggressive with WiMax instead of LTE is that the company has already acquired a lot of the spectrum with its acquisition of ClearWire a few years ago. For more on 4G technology, you can read our quick primer on the subject.
Prior to the Evo 4G, Sprint released a few mobile broadband products that take advantage of 4G/WiMax. They include Sprint's OverDrive mobile hot spot, which lets you connect up to five devices at a time. The data plan on the OverDrive costs $59.99 a month. As for data caps, here's where it gets interesting. Sprint says it still maintains a 5GB data cap for 3G mobile broadband products, but it won't have a data cap for 4G. Also, Sprint says that it doesn't have a data cap for any of its handsets, regardless if it's 3G or 4G. So, good news there. Additionally, the HTC Evo 4G has the ability to act as a WiFi Hotspot for up to eight devices as long as you sign up for a $30 mobile broadband plan, so if you have an Evo 4G, there's no need to get a separate Overdrive, and you get the benefit of unlimited data.… Read more