T-Mobile Rocket 3.0 modem review: Failure to launch

CNET editor Dong Ngo gives his take on T-Mobile's new Rocket 3.0 Laptop Stick USB 4G modem.

T-Mobile's Rocket 3.0 Laptop Stick 4G USB modem, though not as fast as expected, makes a very good companion for your laptop.
T-Mobile's Rocket 3.0 Laptop Stick 4G USB modem, though not as fast as expected, makes a very good companion for your laptop. Dong Ngo/CNET

First introduced at CES 2011 and made available just a little more than a week ago, T-Mobile's Rocket 3.0 Laptop Stick USB 4G modem faced huge expectations as the company said that it would offer twice the download speed of other 4G devices, up to 42Mbps.

In our testing in the San Francisco Bay Area, the device didn't deliver.

Throughout the city of San Francisco, including in specific locations designated by T-Mobile as offering the new speed, the modem's connection capped at about 13Mbps. Now, this is by no means slow, in fact it's one of the fastest speeds we've seen from a 4G device, and it is capable of downloading a full 1080p movie (about 10GB of data) in about or under 2 hours. Still, it's quite far from 42Mbps.

While this was rather disappointing, we found it, in a way, a good thing. This is because 10GB also happens to be the highest data cap that T-Mobile bundles with the modem, a plan that, by the way, costs $85 a month. There are three other data plans that offer 5GB, 2GB, and 200MB and cost $50, $40, and $30 per month, respectively. With this kind of limit, the higher speed only means you'll go through your allowance faster.

To make up for this, similar to the case of the T-Mobile 4G Mobile Hotspot router, the Rocket 3.0 USB modem won't incur extra charges for continuing usage once the cap is reached. Instead, it'll be throttled down to a crawling connection speed equivalent to EDGE (GPRS) for the rest of the month. Also, the data plans include for free unlimited access to T-Mobile Wi-Fi hot spots, which are available at airports and public places.

Other than that, the Rocket 3.0 Laptop Stick is well-designed and good-looking, though rather bulky, and can also work as a thumbdrive when coupled with a microSD card. It costs $100 after a $50 mail-in rebate and has a two-year contract.

To find out if it'll be a great companion for your laptop, check out the full review.

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