Jump to content

Contributors to this blog

Sprint 4G LTE Tri-Fi Hotspot Review

S4GRU

7,391 views

blog-0101082001340659875.jpg

by Rick Layton
Sprint 4G Rollout Updates
Monday, June 25, 2012 - 4:27 PM MDT

 

As technologies advance, the equipment to use the technology must advance as well. With the upcoming release of 4G LTE in our area (Houston), new equipment will be required to be able to use it. Although Sprint will have numerous data devices to handle the usage by the end of the year, only the Sprint Tri-Band Modem will be available at the rollout of the 4G LTE service.

Due to the enormous dependence my business has on accessing data in a mobile environment, plus the great increases in data speed available with 4G LTE, this makes getting access to 4G LTE imperative to me. I depended heavily on the Sierra Wireless data devices when I started this business 7 years ago for my source of a reliable method of mobile data transmission. This relationship continued on until the release of the original Hotspot with the 4G service in my area.

At one point, I was so displeased with past models, that I had sworn I would never buy another Sierra Wireless device as long as I live. This conclusion was reached after having numerous issues with previous hotspot models. There were so many problems that it seemed as if the device was never even tested on the networks it was to be used on. Also Sprint actively blocked reviews of the device, likely to not hinder sales in spite of the problems.

My need for a new device with both WiMax and LTE capability outweighed my outright dislike of Sierra Wireless products. I proceeded against better judgment, and the Tri-Band modem was ordered even though the possibility of getting a substandard unit once again was always at the forefront of my mind.

 

On with the show

 

gallery_1_2_137123.jpg

The official part number of the Tri-Band Modem is 803S. Along with the modem, I also ordered the SSX7077-V desktop cradle. I had to dig through a lot sites to find the information necessary to make this decision for my business. Much to my surprise, even though I was told the cradle was not available yet, I got a Sprint telesales person who was able to use the part number and find they had it in stock.

Upon arrival I unpacked the unit and cradle...while holding my breath. The device that came out of the box was a pleasant departure from the previous Hotspots I had owned. Above is a picture of the device as it was shipped with all components. There was a small user guide as well but to get the real instructions the user guide must be downloaded from Sprint.

 

gallery_1_2_114132.jpg

Gone was the one piece blow molded plastic case which allowed no air circulation and caused the prior Hotspots to overheat quickly. Although the display is still too small for my aging eyes (it is actually the same display size as prior units) the change to the case makes it much easier to see in the interior of my van where the device will mostly be used.

In this picture of the front you can see that there is a new button arrangement as compared to the older Hotspots. Also in the picture is the USB cable for use with the charger or to connect a computer, the AC to USB adapter, the battery and the battery cover. I opened the cradle, which was surprisingly inexpensive, and was delighted to find an additional AC to USB adapter which meant the cradle could be left in place without having to move the adapter around.

As you look at the modem from the side you can see the antenna ports (the covers are open), the USB connector in the middle and the slot for the memory card. The round hole just right of the left antenna port is the reset button for the unit.

gallery_1_2_112318.jpg

Here is the same view with the battery and cover installed. Notice that the SD card slot is covered by the

battery cover.

 

gallery_1_2_184795.jpg

The opposite side has two switches. The one on the left is a WPS setup button while the one on the right is a slider to mute the unit.

 

gallery_1_2_123876.jpg

 

The unit sits nicely in the cradle and looks to me to be a solution to help keep the USB port for the charger/interface cable from failing. This has been a major issue with the prior Hotspots. The case of the unit also helps support the USB port to take some of the load off of the circuit board.

It took quite a bit of digging on the Sierra Wireless site to find out that the antenna ports are for the 4G WiMax band only. The cradle contains 2 5dbi omnidirectional antennas to allow full use of the WiMax network architecture.

 

Initial testing

gallery_1_2_110374.jpg

The initial testing of the unit looks promising. The antennas in the cradle for 4G WiMax actually seem to get 3 – 5dBm gain in all conditions tested. The new unit has the ability to search the other bands for signals while staying connected. This allows less downtime between band changes. I notice a lot less disruption when switching bands.

This unit has better reception on 3G and 4G WiMax than the previous hotspots and even the U600 USB modem I use as well. 4G WiMax is able to connect quickly even at 10% and the cradle has improved stability of WiMax and decreased ping times. For a short time I had access to Sprint 4G LTE as they were testing the towers in my area. The speeds were incredilbly faster. A 10% 4G LTE signal averaged 8.12Mbps download and 1.85Mbps upload. An 80% signal was able to get 35.8Mbps down on my best test and 22.1Mbps up.

The upload speeds was very unexpected, and much higher than Sprint LTE smartphone devices have reported. This is likely due to much stronger transmit capabilities of the hotspot. I also discovered that when the modem is tethered the cable limits the bandwidth to approximately 20Mbps total speed. It will be interesting to see how it works in the 12 to 14 hour days of hot Houston Weather.

 

First week in the field

The Tri Band Modem got pressed into service a little quicker than planned, as my main unit went down with a bad transmission and the U600 USB modem with a Cradlepoint that was in this unit appears to have been damaged by the wrecker’s radio which runs on the edge of the WiMax frequency at 5 watts. The units have been sent in to determine cause of failure and for repairs but I think next time I will make sure all electronics are powered off before getting that close to a transmitter (OUCH!!).

I am running the same routes in a rental van with the Tri-Band Modem that I normally use the other units on. There is less downtime in the signal gaps I am familiar with and areas where I have had signal problems in both 3G and 4G WiMax are much improved. I have yet to encounter any more 4G LTE signals but am looking forward to the service coming online soon. The unit seems to be running hotter than I would like with a fully charged battery but is actually cooler that the previous Hotspots. The temperature is supposed to soar over the next few days without the cloudiness we have had this past week. So it will be interesting to see if the overheating problems of previous models still occur.

 

Week 2 – The True test

The unit is getting worked really hard this week with temperatures outside up near 100 degrees. The GPS is useless with this kind of sun load as the unit will overheat if left in direct sunlight (as the instructions state) in about 20 minutes. The good news is that this is about twice as long as my original Hotspot will last. How anyone can make a unit that requires a clear view of the sky for GPS but can’t handle sunlight is beyond comprehension. A quick check of the Tri-Band’s temperature specs shows that the unit is only rated for 95 degrees. The prior Hotspot was rated well above the century mark but couldn’t even handle 90 degrees for any length of time. The crappiest laptop on the market will handle 105 degrees plus all day long. The true test will be my afternoon calls when the temperatures are high. Battery life has been about 8 to 9 hours which is far better than the prior Hotspots.

The unit started overheating one afternoon. I can’t say I’m a bit surprised at that, but what is surprising is that it will run steadily as long as the air temp is below 98 degrees. This is a first for Hotspots as they always overheated well before the rated temperature spec. The bad news is the crappy overheat shutdown doesn’t turn off the unit before damage starts to occur, nor does it turn the unit off completely.

Removing the battery cover seems to help air circulation and overheating some. The button lights are flickering after one overheating but the unit seems to be working fine other than this. It will be interesting to see what happens when it really gets hot here.

According to the specs 4G LTE takes the least amount of wattage to run so it may not overheat as fast when using 4G LTE. I had the chance to try the modem in the old school 3G EVDO mode as one of my locations is 40 feet underground and that is all that is available at this location. I shut the unit down after 30 minutes as the unit was so hot you could barely handle it even though the temperature underground is around 70 degrees. I would not recommend trying to use this for any length of time if you want the Tri-Band to not overheat!!

 

My Opinion

Although Sierra Wireless has made some major improvement in the 3rd generation Hotspot, this is still a unit for the casual user. It is not designed to handle heavy use or outdoor summer temperatures for any length of time. It will be going in my climate controlled cabinet to protect it from the heat next week. I will let you know how it works when the temperature stays below 85 degrees. The improvements in connectivity, reception and stability are worth the investment. As long as you know and adjust your usage for the limitations of the unit.

  • Like 3


12 Comments


Recommended Comments

Something is wonky with the 22.1 Mbps LTE uplink speed test. I do not believe that >18 Mbps is realistically possible in a 5 MHz uplink bandwidth with a single spatial channel.

 

AJ

Share this comment


Link to comment

Something is wonky with the 22.1 Mbps LTE uplink speed test. I do not believe that >18 Mbps is realistically possible in a 5 MHz uplink bandwidth with a single spatial channel.AJ

 

It does seem out of whack. I was expecting faster speeds out of the MiFis since they can produce a stronger signal back to the site. But this is way high. I wonder if it is a typo and was actually only 12.1Mbps. Which would still be high, but much more plausible.

 

Robert

Share this comment


Link to comment

Good review. I actually have this unit and it grabs a 3G and 4G signal better than my previous devices. Hoping that when NYC gets LTE, it will grab that as well too.

TS

  • Like 1

Share this comment


Link to comment

Several weeks ago, I believe I showed Robert some of the gain and ERP figures from the FCC OET authorization. Needless to say, the Tri-Fi has a lot of RF advantages over most handsets.

 

AJ

  • Like 2

Share this comment


Link to comment

Great review Rick but you need a better camera. I would definitely recommend this review to anyone wanting this device who works in the field. What do you do BTW Rick?

Share this comment


Link to comment

Something is wonky with the 22.1 Mbps LTE uplink speed test. I do not believe that >18 Mbps is realistically possible in a 5 MHz uplink bandwidth with a single spatial channel.AJ

 

I thought it was out of whack when I was testing as well but I was able to do two speed tests that were very close. It is possible that I was so close to the tower that it was inaccurate. I was sitting on a hill in the middle of the highest strength LTE I could find. It was line of sight with no obstructions and my rangefinder showed 482 feet to the element. I was amazed by the ping times as well on this test test as all other areas I tested were 55ms or higher. This test had a ping of 37 ms. The other test showed a 20.7 upload speed. All other tests I performed in other areas with 100% were in the 12 - 19 mb range on upload.

  • Like 3

Share this comment


Link to comment

Great review Rick but you need a better camera. I would definitely recommend this review to anyone wanting this device who works in the field. What do you do BTW Rick?

Sorry my good camera was in the van with the broke transmission. I am a automotive diagnostic consultant that helps repair shops with diagnostic issues and reprogramming vehicle computers. All of the reprogramming for cars is internet based.

Share this comment


Link to comment

Thanks for the great review Rick. I share your opinion of the Sierra Wireless modems. I've had 3 Overdrives, 3 USB250s, and 3 Overdrive Pros in 2 years. All returned for a variety of reasons. I'm glad I've had Sprint insurance on them but it's still been a bit of inconvenience to return them each time. It sounds like they've improved the latest edition.

Would you be able to test the cradle to see if, when you're in a marginal area just on the edge of Wimax service (like me), it will boost your signal enough to get Wimax reception? What was the cost of the cradle?

Again, thanks for the great review.

Share this comment


Link to comment

As close as I can figure the cradle boosts the signal strength in marginal areas about 7 to 10 percent. I tried it in an area that shows a 10% signal and with the cradle it shows 20%. It really helps the transmit because without at 10% it misses data occasionally but with the cradle it is a good usable signal. The cradle was $54.00.

  • Like 3

Share this comment


Link to comment

As close as I can figure the cradle boosts the signal strength in marginal areas about 7 to 10 percent. I tried it in an area that shows a 10% signal and with the cradle it shows 20%. It really helps the transmit because without at 10% it misses data occasionally but with the cradle it is a good usable signal. The cradle was $54.00.

Thanks

Share this comment


Link to comment

Wow, great review. I was not aware of the difficulties that these makers have with these modems. I would think that a simple color change to white would help some of the overheating issues when it is in direct sunlight.

 

Good to hear that they have made some progress making these better, but I hope they figure out how to make models that will be more rugged/reliable soon.

  • Like 1

Share this comment


Link to comment

Like the reviewer, I live in Houston. I really appreciate the thoroughness of this review and including evaluation of the unit under high (normal Houston) temperatures.

 

May be looking to replace my fiancée's Motorola CPEi25150 with this unit in the future.

Share this comment


Link to comment

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • gallery_1_23_9202.png

  • The Wall Articles

  • Wall Comments

    • to me rural coverage matters most....because i like being able to make phone calls and send texts in remote areas of the country ...i dont care about speeds i just care about per square mile coverage and over all usability and reliability
    • Tell us how you really feel @MrZorbatron!

      I think that most cellular players exaggerate their coverage. Yes, I suspected a long time ago that T-Mobile was one of the most egregious. Now according to the merger presentation, they will end up with 85,000 macro sites. That will be enough to match the coverage of pretty much everybody.

      Like you, I appreciate not having dropped calls or undelivered texts. In my area on my T-Mobile MVNO, I don't get any but can't say it won't happen elsewhere. Once Charter offers service via their Verizon MVNO, I think I will move my 4 personal lines there. My business line will stay on Sprint/T-Mobile, well, because I can't control that.
    • I do not welcome any part of this.  I don't think T-Mobile really cares about doing anything they say they care about.  I have seen how truly bad their network is in the ways that matter for essential communication, and I want nothing to do with it.  Say what you want about Verizon, but the one thing they have in common with Sprint is that they have historically built out a solid network before trying to make it extremely fast.  I don't care about 50 Mbps to my phone.  I care about calls that don't get disconnected constantly.  I care about that stock trade getting through when I send it, even if carried by EVDO, because EVDO still gets it through. Sprint's "Outdoor coverage" maps might seem exaggerated to some, but T-Mobile's maps are a complete joke.  Maybe Michigan is a bubble, the only state where this is true, but it really is very true here.  T-Mobile is the network of dropped and undelivered calls, mysterious disconnection, and "call failed" error messages. If this goes through, look for me at the nearest Verizon store because price to me is absolutely irrelevant.  I see two things happening if this merger goes through:  1:  Sprint spectrum is used to bolster capacity at T-Mobile sites, and 2:  As much of the current Sprint network as possible goes away, even if it means losing sites that would provide valuable fill-in density.  I saw the latter happen with Sprint and Nextel, after they insisted that all Nextel sites that could serve to increase Sprint coverage would be used.  Similarly, there were locations T-Mobile could have used MetroPCS locations to improve their own coverage but didn't, even where it left holes in their network.
    • Not when Verizon just bought 1GHz of mmwave spectrum. Those were the policies of the past. If it does not get approved, it would the loss of jobs and the fact that it might not be good for consumers. Although when I look at the table on this page, comparing unlimited plans, it is already evident that the other three are not really competing and Sprint's lower prices are not working since they did not manage to steal anybody from the other other three. To me it is evident that were Sprint to remain independent they need massive investment in their network since competing on price is not enough anymore and low prices just deprive their network of investment.
    • And I would definitely say that merger probably or probably not won't be approved. If not I would have to say it would be on the grounds of cellular asset divestiture.
×