Sprint Overdrive 4G WiFi Hotspot – Needs To Be Less “Hot” and More “Spot”

I’m sick of Comcast. Their terrible customer service, spotty , service, and outrageous pricing has driven me nuts for a long time now. The problem is that in my area, Comcast is the contracted cable provider and only recently have services like AT&T U-Verse and SureWest (previously Everest) started challenging Comcast for their customers.

Even though wired options are creeping into my neighborhood, I’m much more interested in pursuing next-gen technologies like mobile wireless than I am switching services from one phone company to another and risking the same service/pricing issues. So, when I finally got fed up with yet another Comcast outage, I decided to march down to the Sprint store and look into their Overdrive 4G option.  With Sprint offering a free 30-day trial of their products, I figured there was no harm in giving it a try.

The Sprint Overdrive is really just a repackaged Sierra Wireless W801 and claims to offer 4G service in Kansas City with up to 6mbbs download and 3-6mbps upload. The data package runs $59.99/month with unlimited data on 4G and a 5MB limit on 3G. Since the Sprint 4G map shows me right in the middle of a 4G service area, less than 500 meters from a tower, I figured I would be in good shape.

The Good News About The Sprint Overdrive

  • Easy Setup – The unboxing and setup took about 15 minutes, super easy if you know how to configure a wireless router.
  • Portability – Being able to take the device on the road is great. When my family travels, no need to leave wireless at home. We just unplugged and took it with us, which allowed the kids to play on the iPad in the car (where we had 3G/4G service)
  • Expandability– Up to 5 devices can connect at the same time
  • Battery life – I was impressed that I was able to get about 3.5 hours of surfing time out of the Overdrive (with only 1 or 2 users connected)

The Bad News About The Sprint Overdrive

  • The heat – I cannot express what a HUGE problem this is. When more than 2 devices connect to the Overdrive at that same time, while it’s plugged in, it overheats quickly. And when I say overheats, I mean H-O-T! Remember when Dell had those issues with their power supplies getting hot and burning people? I would put the heat that this device puts out in this category. Additionally, when it overheats, it shuts down, kicking everyone off the device.There’s nothing more annoying than working on a project, getting kicked off, and then having to go restart the modem every 20 minutes. The solution is to unplug the device, but then it runs out of battery quickly when several devices are connected. Since everyone in my house has their own computer, this just wasn’t a suitable option. By the way, Sprint is aware of the overheating issue and doesn’t have a solution at this time.For those who are stuck with the 2 year contract for their Overdrive, I did find that placing the device on it’s side and pointing a small fan at it did resolve most of the overheating issues. It is readily apparent that the engineers who designed the device never thought that consumers would be charging the device AND using it at the same time. Silly engineers!
  • The connectivity – Like I said, I’m really close to a 4G tower in Sprint’s hometown of Kansas City. Yet, I could only ever get 2 bars of 4G and I kept getting knocked down to 3G. Even though you can adjust the setting to indicate how frequently the device should poll for 4G service, I NEVER saw it go back up to 4G after it downgraded service to 3G. Not sure why, but apparently Sierra Wireless needs to address this in a future firmware upgrade.
  • The download speeds – 6mbps?? Seriously?? I never even saw 1mbps. As a result, this made connectivity feel like dial-up. My kids complained about accessing gaming sites and I felt like my connectivity was dragging all the time, even on 4G.
  • The upload speeds – Even worse. I rarely saw anything better than .6mbps on upload. Terrible when your job requires that you transfer files up and down to servers.

In the end, I just decided to return the device to Sprint. Their no-hassle 30-day trial held up to its name and Sprint took the unit back with no issues. They’re crediting me back the cost of the unit, so I’m okay with giving it a try. Hopefully as “4G” truly becomes 4G and service is expanded, devices like the Overdrive will be enhanced and eventually offer me the ability to cut the cable. Until then, unless you are a very, very casual user of the Internet, I’d suggest passing on the Sprint Overdrive. For the price, there’s just not enough “spot” and waaaay too much “hot”.


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