PROS / If you’re looking for massive, 20GB to 30GB data allocations, Sprint’s options are the cheapest you’ll find.
CONS / The carrier’s coverage can be spotty and is slower than everyone else in the industry.
VERDICT / Unless you’re looking for tons of data, Sprint’s mobile broadband choices are substandard. In terms of affordability, speed and ubiquity, there are better alternatives.
It’s tough to recommend Sprint. T-Mobile recently stole the number three position behind Verizon and AT&T, and of the Big Four carriers, Sprint is now solidly in last place. True, the company still has a large network, but its bottom-rung download speeds can barely compete, and its mobile broadband plans – while cheap – don’t beat T-Mobile’s rock-bottom prices. If you're already one of Sprint’s cellular customers, it’s worth tacking a mobile hotspot onto your monthly bill. If not, its mobile internet options don't give you much bang for your buck.
Sprint offers four portable internet plans, including some sizable options. Its starter 3GB plan costs you $35 a month, while $50 nets you 6GB. Heavy users can turn to a 12GB plan for $80 a month or a whopping 30GB plan for $110. That 30GB plan is actually the best deal we’ve found for high-tier access, almost $100 less than what Verizon charges and $135 less than AT&T’s 30GB tier. Regardless of which plan you pick, there are no overage charges; if you hit your data cap, you are simply throttled down to 3G or 2G speeds for the remainder of the month.
Should your data needs fit into one of Sprint's plans, you have access to download speeds averaging about 10 Mbps. This is enough to stream audio and 720p video, but it’s definitely low, considering Verizon and T-Mobile average almost twice those speeds. Expect to fluidly browse the web and stream non-1080p content from Netflix, YouTube and other video providers. Fortunately, streaming lower-quality video consumes much less bandwidth, so your data allocation stretches that much further.
Like many internet providers, Sprint charges its fair share of fees to mobile broadband customers. Whether you buy a new hotspot or bring one you already own, there is a $36 activation fee tacked on to your first month's bill, just for connecting to the network. If you do buy a new device and decide to return it, you have to pay a $35 restocking fee. Should that purchased device be obtained on contract – which greatly reduces or even eliminates the cost of the modem but locks you in to two years with the carrier – leaving early entails a termination fee of up to $350.
If its network were as strong as those of its major competitors and its speeds more commanding, we'd find Sprint's plans quite appealing. In the absence of significant speed or ubiquitous coverage, though, plans that are cheaper than most still feel a bit overpriced. If you're already a Sprint customer, there's a lot to say for keeping your bills unified. If you're not tied down to any one company, though, look elsewhere – Sprint can't quite compete with the cheap plans from companies like T-Mobile.