Sprint's 4G plans explained

CNET editor Nicole Lee explains Sprint's 4G plans and how they tie in with the HTC Evo 4G.

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.

HTC Evo 4G
HTC Evo 4G will be the country's first 4G phone running on WiMax Bonnie Cha

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.

Another benefit of WiMax on the HTC Evo 4G is that finally, you'll be able to use voice and data simultaneously on Sprint. Unlike GSM, CDMA technology does not have the ability to run voice and data simultaneously--it would have to be one or the other. Since WiMax is not tied to CDMA, Sprint is now able to transmit voice over the 1xRTT network at the same time as data is transmitted.

Now let's talk about the pricing plan required with the HTC Evo 4G. The cheapest plan you can get with it is the $69.99 Everything Data plan, which includes unlimited text, unlimited data, and 450 minutes of voice (or you can opt for the Simply Everything plan which is $99.99 for unlimited everything). But as we said in our announcement last week , you'll also have to pay an additional $10 Premium Data fee for the use of 4G/WiMax. This is not optional. Yes, even if your area doesn't have 4G, you'll have to pay the $10 extra. Sprint says that this is essentially future-proofing the device, since it does plan to spread its WiMax market to an additional 18 markets by the end of 2010, and you can of course use the 4G in the 32 or so existing WiMax markets. Still, paying for something that you can't even use is not something we can get behind.

The 32 aforementioned markets include Georgia--Atlanta, Milledgeville; Hawaii--Honolulu, Maui; Idaho--Boise; Illinois--Chicago; Maryland--Baltimore; Nevada--Las Vegas; North Carolina--Charlotte, Greensboro, (along with High Point and Winston-Salem), Raleigh (along with Cary, Chapel Hill and Durham); Oregon--Portland, Salem; Pennsylvania--Harrisburg, Lancaster, Philadelphia, Reading, York; Texas--Abilene, Amarillo, Austin, Corpus Christo, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Houston, Killeen/Temple, Lubbock, Midland/Odessa, San Antonio, Waco, Wichita Falls; Washington--Bellingham, Seattle.

Sprint hopes to launch 4G in Boston, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Denver, Los Angeles, Kansas City, Miami, Minneapolis, New York City, Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, St. Louis, Washington D.C., and more by the end of the year. You can keep track of 4G coverage in your area by visiting Sprint's 4G site.

 

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