Archive for November 3, 2009

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Sprint sells its first netbook, expands its 4G network

Sprint today began selling its first subsidized, network-connected netbook and announced the expansion of its fourth-generation wireless network to a further 10 cities

The netbook Sprint is selling, the Dell Inspiron Mini 10, does not rank among the best performers in our Ratings, available to subscribers. However, where the Mini 10 currently sells for $349 from Dell, Sprint will sell it for $199.99, after a $100 mail-in rebate. The catch, as with netbooks sold by other carriers such as AT&T and Verizon is the requirement to sign up for a two-year broadband plan for the device, which costs $59.99 a month.

The Sprint Mini 10 is currently available only at Sprint Stores in the San Francisco Bay Area. Sprint's news release does not detail further availability, but other such launches by competing carriers gradually rolled out to a number of cities across the country.

Sprint is the first carrier to roll out a fourth-generation, or 4G, wireless network. The 10 new cities added today, including Chicago and Dallas-Fort Worth, expand Sprint's network beyond the 25 cities where they already have at least some 4G service, including Philadelphia and Las Vegas.

Using a technology known as WiMax (for Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access), Sprint promises to serve up to 120 million people by the end of 2010. Verizon also promises a 2010 launch in 30 markets serving 100 million people, using a competing 4G technology known as LTE (for Long-Term Evolution). AT&T plans to begin LTE trials in 2010, with deployment beginning in 2011. T-Mobile, a latecomer to 3G networks, has not yet announced 4G plans. 

4G is limited to laptops to now, in part because their bigger batteries can better meet the greater power demands of the new technology. And it’s a pricey laptop add-on; Sprint’s 4G data plan for laptops is $70 per month—$10 more than its 3G plan—and requires purchase of an $80 4G external network card (which is sometimes offered free as a promotion). Also, while 4G technology should allow speeds that are several times faster than 3G networks, the speed gain may not be as great as some carrier specifications suggest, since those figures use bit rates, which may not align with actual network speed in use. –Paul Reynolds and Mike Gikas

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