This Week in Broadband
Sprint's mobile router pricing for the HTC EVO 4G may be hard to beat anytime soon
It's still a confusing concept for some, but the mobile WiFi hotspot that is part of the Sprint HTC Evo 4G WiMax phone may give the No. 3 wireless carrier in the US an edge that competitors will find hard to match anytime soon. Priced as a $29.99 per month add-on to the base monthly charge of $79.99, the Evo's portable hotspot (or Pocketspot as we like to say) has set a new bar for the expected functionality of a so-called "superphone," allowing you to consolidate devices while sharing your high-speed connectivity with anything in reach that has a WiFi chip.
The Evo's pocketspot functionality wins on several levels: While we all need to carry a phone, many of us who work in a mobile fashion have been forced to bring along extra devices -- either a USB stick for the laptop or a standalone mobile router, like the MiFi or the Sprint Overdrive -- to ensure we can stay connected wherever we are.
By sticking the router inside the phone you not only have to bring one less device but you are paying less than half the other device's price to do so. That kind of math makes picking the Evo a lot easier for those whose purchase decisions are at an inflection point right now, especially with AT&T still not allowing iPhone users to "tether" their laptops to their phones in a similar fashion.
How much room does Sprint (and later this year, Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR)) have to run against the competition with its 4G/hotspot combo? A long way, especially for anything that works at comparable speeds to the Clearwire/Sprint WiMax network. Verizon Wireless won't launch its Long Term Evolution (LTE) markets until the fourth quarter, and will only have PC cards or USB dongles as devices at that time. LTE phones aren't expected until mid-2011 at the earliest, and having hotspot functionality in those first models might be a stretch. AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s reluctance to push the 3G version of the iPad seems to show that Ma Bell is still feeling network pains, so it's doubtful that we'll see any iPhone/hotspot combo anytime soon that could challenge the Sprint version.
T-Mobile US Inc. may be able to match Sprint in markets where it has its HSPA+ service running, but it remains to be seen if device makers will support that technology to the tune of building the phone/hotspot combination. And though you have to buy the Evo for $199 to get the hotspot, its $29.99 per month price compares favorably to standalone 3G devices like the MiFi, which Verizon (and Sprint) offer for about $50 for the device (after rebates) and $60 a month for the service. While I still think Sprint and other wireless providers haven't really explained the functionality benefits of portable hotspots well, it's a story Sprint salespeople should have to themselves for at least the next year or so -- not a bad lead time to get the message out and get the profits coming in.
Need to know more about Clearwire's spectrum advantage for 4G? Our latest report takes a look at Clearwire's spectrum assets -- and it's free to download! Just visit this link to get your copy today. Also available now for free download is our WiMax Business Deployment Guide.
— Paul Kapustka is the founder and editor of Sidecut Reports, a Wireless analysis site and research service. He can be reached at [email protected]. Special to Light Reading Mobile.