Is Sprint’s WiMAX Phone the ‘New Trophy Handset?’

March 17, 2010

We haven’t seen the rumored WiMAX smartphone that will reportedly be announced by Sprint next week at CTIA, but someone who has told us recently that it’s a beauty, with a big screen tailored for on-the-go video. “It’s the new trophy phone,” our informant gushed. “Pretty darn amazing.”

It’s also probably not going to be available until sometime later this summer, so don’t go flushing those iPhones and Droids down the loo just yet. If you are looking for new wireless devices that might actually be closer to shipment at CTIA, you can join us in a hunt for end-user devices that do a better job of pulling in a WiMAX signal than your standard, naked USB dongle.

We’ve already shown you pictures
of Cradlepoint’s version of a portable WiMAX/Wi-Fi router that fits into a home dock with big rabbit-ear antennas to boost signal strength; expect to hear more about that home modem as well as some others from new suppliers that try to improve a problem all wireless networks face: Getting through walls. We’ll be on the lookout for one Clearwire-ready device we’ve heard is in development that is designed for businesses, with strong outdoor antennas to grab the WiMAX signal and a built-in Wi-Fi router to run the LAN inside. Any guesses to the supplier? We should know more next week.

In our recent network report on Clearwire, the company’s chief technical officer Dr. John Saw told us that Clearwire was seeing most of its network use coming from folks who were sitting inside a building, rather than on the go. And in an interview for the same report, Motorola’s WiMAX/LTE guru Bruce Brda predicted that 2010 would see multiple new entrants in the Clearwire CPE game, as the company’s open network started to attract more players than the initial contracted suppliers. Another good guess is more home modems that include integrated support for VoIP, as Clearwire and its partners look to increase the value proposition by adding services.

With a big Sprint event scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, and a joint Sprint/Clearwire keynote on the schedule for Wednesday morning, it could be a big week for WiMAX in Las Vegas, so much different than the scene just two short years ago. Stay tuned here for more news and analysis before, at and after the show.

Greetings USA TODAY Readers: Here’s Why We Like the Overdrive

February 18, 2010

Had a lot of calls today from folks who saw our quote in a Sprint Overdrive ad in USA TODAY — never doubt the power of the mainstream media! Since it’s been a little bit since the post that Sprint quoted, we’ve handily reprinted it here below. Enjoy!

Pocketspots Bust Out — Sprint’s Overdrive a Winner at CES
(Originally published Jan. 10, 2010)

Looking back, it’s clear we didn’t do justice to Sprint’s introduction of its Overdrive mobile hot spot product — such is the problem of holding a late-night event at CES, when your audience may be distracted from blogging or writing in the moment, as they say.

Overall, it was a boffo product announcement, hitting all the big-time notes (silly comedian Frank Caliendo, star turn from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, over-the-top after-announcement party food from celebrity chef Mario Batali) but most importantly it delivered a shipping-now, easy to use and understand product in the form of the Overdrive pocketspot from Sierra Wireless, which combines 3G and 4G connectivity into an in-your-pocket package. At $99 for the device and $60 a month for the data plan — same as most standalone 3G aircards — the Overdrive is a no-brainer decision if you are a road warrior who spends any amount of time in Sprint’s already operating 4G markets.

In our brief bit of hands-on testing at CES (the Sprint folks were kind enough to lend us an Overdrive for evaluation) we found the Overdrive incredibly simple to operate — just push one button and BOOM, as Caliendo would say in his trademark John Madden imitation, your WiMAX-enabled Wi-Fi hotspot was up and running. And even in the challenging airwave atmosphere of the Las Vegas Convention Center, we were able to live-Tweet the FCC chairman’s talk, via the Overdrive sitting in our suit jacket pocket. Nice.

Not to be outdone, pocketspot veterans Cradlepoint were showing their latest wares in a suite in the Wynn — while not yet available the company’s “Project Tablerock” mobile hotspot with docking station will likely be an extremely attractive choice for Clearwire users, since it features a portable WiMAX modem that becomes your home modem when you drop it into its two-antenna charging/docking station.

According to Cradlepoint folks who showed us the Tablerock unit, the docking station antennas give the unit a significant reception boost — never a bad thing when it comes to wireless connectivity. Look for the Tablerock and maybe more (!) pocketspot modems for Clearwire and its partners as the first quarter of 2010 comes to a close. (Bad phone-cam picture of Overdrive and Tablerock side by side follows.)

Sprint’s Overdrive by Sierra Wireless, left, and Cradlepoint’s Tablerock, in the wild at CES.

Pocketspots in a SIM? SIMpler, Sez Andy

February 15, 2010

Our partner in pocketspot crime, Andy Abramson, has the goods on a new development — a pocketspot in a SIM, basically a small chip card that can turn any compliant phone into a mobile hotspot. Read Andy’s post and see if you agree that this will turn up the heat on standalone providers like Sierra Wireless, Cradlepoint and Novatel.

My take, in the short term no, there is still functionality and hard-proofing in the standalone devices that will take time to integrate into a phone. Long-term? It should all be in one device. How many years out are we from that, though? And what will the billing plans look like?