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Sierra Wireless 4G LTE Tri-Fi Hotspot (Sprint) review: Sierra Wireless 4G LTE Tri-Fi Hotspot (Sprint)

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For security, the Tri-Fi Hotspot supports all variations of WEP, WPA, and WPA2 wireless encryption standards. It also offers Wi-Fi Protected Setup, a feature that quickly connects WPS-enabled clients to a Wi-Fi network.

Data plans and performance
I tried the Sierra Wireless 4G LTE Tri-Fi Hotspot around the San Francisco Bay Area and was able to get consistent 4G coverage only within the city of San Francisco. In other cities, such as Oakland and Berkeley, most of the time I only had a 3G signal. At spots where the router was able to connect to Sprint's 4G network, its connections, while fast, weren't as fast as I've seen in others, such as the Jetpack 4620L from Verizon. Overall, the router's 4G speeds averaged at about 7Mbps for download and 1.4Mbps for upload. That's about the speed of a lower-tier cable broadband you have at home, which is very fast and enough for any hi-def media streaming. In fact I was able to stream multiple HD YouTube videos with no problem or lagging.

Note that at this download speed, you can go through the first tier of the data plan's included data cap in just about an hour. There are also two other data plans that cost $50 for 6GB and $80 for 12GB per month. The last plan is actually a better deal than what Verizon offers with the Jetpack 4620L, which is $80 for just 10GB. If you go over the limit, you'll have to pay another 5 cents for each additional megabyte. Note that these caps are applied to only when you use Sprint's 3G, 4G LTE and 4G WiMAX networks. The when you go off-network, the 3G portion of all of these data plans comes with just 300MB data cap and will cost another 25 cents per megabyte when you go over.

This wouldn't be a big deal if Sprint's 4G coverage were ubiquitous, which it isn't. Currently Sprint WiMAX is only available in select cities, and its 4G LTE network is expected to launch by the end of the year. This lack of coverage makes the Tri-Fi Hotspot more of a regular dual 3G/4G device, and its data plans even more expensive, comparatively.

As a mobile router, apart from the excellent battery life, the Tri-Fi also stayed very cool in my testing, even after extended operation.

The Sierra Wireless 4G LTE Tri-Fi Hotspot is an excellent mobile router; however, the appeal is for now undermined by Sprint's spotty 4G coverage and expensive data plans.

CNET's cellular Internet speed (in kilobits per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Verizon VL600 UB Modem (4G)
Novatel Jetpack MiFi 4620L
Clear 4G+ Appolo
Clear 4G+ USB Modem (4G)
Clear Spot Voyager
Sierra Wireless 4G LTE Tri-Fi Hotspot
T-Mobile Rocket 3.0 (4G)
Verizon Five Spot (3G)
Sprint MiFi 2200 (3G)
Verizon MiFi 2200 (3G)

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