After I asked about the service, Sprint has activated the phone-as-modem feature of the new Sprint Power Vision phone they sent me to test. The phone takes advantage of Sprint’s high-speed data network (EV-DO) to allow you to watch live and on-demand audio and video, and download and listen to music from their music store. The modem feature lets you use the phone to connect a computer to the web via a USB cable. For more about the cell phone company’s competing data networks, see this PC Magazine article from their February edition.
I had a bit of trouble getting the service to work, due I think to a driver conflict. I’ve installed various programs and drivers to back up data from several Sprint phones and in order to use a slower first-generation card modem last summer, so I think something in the mix was causing my computer to not recognize my Samsung a920. However, once I had uninstalled all of this stuff and re-installed Sprint’s “Connection Manager” software the service worked fine: I plugged it in, and clicked “connect.”
Some casual browsing convinced me the speed was dramatically better from their earlier data network I had used last summer. Wanting to know exactly how fast, I concocted a little experiment. I decided I would run CNet’s Bandwidth meter four times on both the cell phone and my usual Comcast cable modem internet service. The cell phone performed well, rating square in the middle of CNet’s cable modem/DSL range each time, ranging from 482.7 kbps to 761.5 kbps. The Comcast modem performed slightly better, ranging from 614 kbps to 1052.9 kbps. The phone’s average was 644.48 kbps and Comcast’s was 808.85 kbps.
I only have a couple notes on the technology. First, something that irritated me with the earlier service was that their network automatically compressed image files, and a technician told me that while earlier versions of their connection software let you turn it off, the option had been eliminated. While certainly a good idea for mobile devices, their compression technology made some images come out weird colors and made it hard to grab images from the web to manipulate. I’d prefer to turn it off and wait a bit longer. While some webpages I have loaded with the new service appear uncompressed, others show compressed graphics, even though I have the compression turned off in the connection manager software. Second, the USB cord uses the same jack as the power cord, so the phone can’t be running of AC power while you are connected. (I’m assuming it’s not drawing power from the USB cable.)
Sprint is currently charging $80 a month for unlimited data plans, compared to Verizon’s $60, however they currently have a sale making the unlimited data $60 if you already have a Sprint voice line. According to PC Magazine, although the two companies use the same technology Sprint’s network was slightly faster in some places. It strikes me that we are quickly approaching the point where these wireless data services are approaching the cost and speed of DSL or Cable Modems, and when that point is reached I imagine quite a bit could change.
Correction: I’ve been told the phone-as-modem plans are cheaper than the data card plan: “Just a note, our unlimited plans for the Phone As Modem product normally run
for $49.99/mo, with a offer running now for $39.99/mo. Our 40 MB Data Usage plan runs at $39.99/mo with additional data beyond that at $0.001 per KB. I think your pricing was referring to our Connection Cards.”