At CTIA 2010, T-Mobile boasted that it would soon have the fastest 3G network in the U.S. and introduced several new products to take advantage of its HSPA+ network, including the T-Mobile WebConnect Rocket USB Laptop Stick. Theoretically, HSPA+ can deliver download speeds that are up to three times faster (up to 21Mbps) than current 3G technology, and while we didn't quite achieve that nirvana on the WebConnect Rocket, we were impressed by its performance, as it provided some of the fastest download and upload speeds from a cellular modem we've seen, even the 4G Sprint Overdrive.
The caveat, however, is that T-Mobile's HSPA+ network is pretty limited at this point, covering just Philadelphia, New York, New Jersey, Long Island, Washington, D.C., and soon Los Angeles. Also, it requires a two-year data plan of $59.99 per month with a 5GB data cap, which is the norm, but we can see users easily going over that limit given the speeds we got, and that won't come cheap. T-Mobile's overage fees are $0.20 per MB, so be sure to keep track of your usage. The T-Mobile WebConnect USB Stick costs $49.99 and can also be bought without an annual contract with an Even More Plus Plan.
Manufactured by Huawei, the T-Mobile WebConnect Rocket measures 3.4 inches long by 1.1 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick and weighs 1.1 ounces. It's slightly larger than a typical flash drive but still travel-friendly. In addition, the USB port connector is retractable, via the slider control on the face of the device, so you don't have to keep track of any protective caps, which inevitably get lost.
Also on front is a small LED just below the T-Mobile name that illuminates different colors depending on the status of the device. On the right side, there's a microSD expansion slot, though you'll have to supply your own card since you only get a USB cable and reference material in the box. There is no software CD, as the WebConnect Manager desktop client is automatically installed as soon as you plug in the device for the first time (compatible with Windows 7, XP, Vista, or Mac OS X 10.4 or higher).
The desktop client isn't much to look at but it provides you with the basic tools to check your data usage, network strength, and available wireless networks. In addition, you can send/receive and manage text messages and download software updates from the desktop manager. Unfortunately, the WebConnect Rocket doesn't have built-in GPS, unlike the Sprint Overdrive, so you can't use it to map your position or find points of interest near your current location.
We tested the T-Mobile WebConnect Rocket in New York with our Lenovo ThinkPad T61 and came away quite impressed with the results. We recorded speeds using Speedtest.net, and in an average of five tests, the WebConnect Rocket delivered download speeds of 2.93Mbps and upload speeds of 1.26Mbps in HSPA+ mode. With such speeds, we were able to upload a 3.11MB photo in 27.9 seconds and download an 11MB MP3 file in 33 seconds. Compare that to the regular 3G T-Mobile WebConnect Laptop USB Stick, which averaged just 670Kbps for downloads and 310Kbps up. The WebConnect Rocket even bested the 4G Sprint Overdrive, which averaged download speeds of 2.61Mbps and upload speeds of 0.2Mbps.
It's a shame T-Mobile's HSPA+ cover is so limited at this time because the WebConnect Rocket really throttles the competition. That said, T-Mobile has said it plans to roll out HSPA+ to 100 metropolitan cities and 185 million POPs by the end of 2010, so there's hope on the horizon.