Sprint OverDrive 3G/4G WiFi Router Awesome Little Device: 4G Service Behavior is Puzzling

I took Sprint’s 3G/4G mobile hotspot, the OverDrive, out for a few hours for a test drive this week. If it weren’t so tiny, the hard edged shiny black device which somewhat resembles the Motorola Droid might be slightly menacing looking. As it is, its pocketable size and a promise of easy WiFi access to 3G and, if in the right place, Clear-powered 4G goodness, made it an attractive device to play with instead of actually pursing other productive tasks.

You’ve probably read reasonably comprehensive reviews of the OverDrive or its 3G-only relative, the MiFi, elsewhere. So, I’ll limit my comments to a few basics and 4G wireless data service.

The OverDrive is a small battery operated device that takes either Sprint’s own 3G wireless data signal or Clear (formerly ClearWire) 4G wireless data and rebroadcasts it as a WiFi signal that up to 5 devices in the area can share. A built-in web server lets you easily manage its features using any web browser. It looks like any other WiFi access point to notebooks, netbooks, smartphones and any other WiFi device you might want to use with it. I tested it using a netbook and a variety of smartphones.

Sprint’s 3G signal was easy to pick up as expected and worked as expected: Well. The promised 4G wireless data provided by Clear provided some puzzling moments, however. With the OverDrive simply sitting still on a flat surface, the 4G signal strength fluctuated from a weak signal to no signal to strong and back down to no signal again in a period as short as a minute or two. Walking around indoors and outdoors with the OverDrive provided similar results at various times.

During one period when the 4G service seemed stable for a few minutes I used DSL Reports’ mobile speed test page to learn more about the 4G’s downstream speed. However, I saw odd results indicating that the downstream speed was only around 120Kbps or so instead of the expected 1Mbps or more. However, web pages rendered much faster than would be indicated by the slow 120Kbps or measured downstream speed.

Anedotal comments by regular Clear 4G service users indicate that my experience of waxing and waning signal is not usual. However, I’m hesitant to draw any firm conclusions based on my brief testing period.

You can find more information about the OverDrive here: