Review: Novatel Wireless Ovation U720 USB Modem: Part 2

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I've heard horror stories about Sprint's customer service in the past, but I figure every big company has issues now and then.

I call the activation phone number. The magical lady in the wire said I'd be on hold for less than three minutes. After slightly over four minutes, a rep picked up, but then had to put me on hold again. I'm now eight minutes into this call. The rep's computer just went down, and we're waiting for it to come back up. Not exactly off and running. I don't remember what the process was with my Verizon Wireless card, but I suspect it was just plug the thing in and go. I ask the guy if we're still waiting for the computer to come back up. He says yes. At 9:42, the call disconnects.

Okay, calling back, we'll try again. This time the voice tells me we'll be on hold for less than ten minutes. Well, I'm on my Skype phone, and it's not costing me by the minute, so I guess I'll live, but it's not exactly converting me into a happy Sprint customer. This time around, it only takes about three minutes for a new rep to come on the line. This one has a working computer, and the process was pretty easy. Tell her who I am, and she gives me a six digit code to unlock the USB modem device. Drop it in, and we're off and running. Total length of time on that call was just over five minutes.

Installation and First Use

Setting up the software was easy enough. First thing it wants to do is download a sizable system update. This goes a bit faster over wifi than over Sprint's network, but installs just fine and away you go.

Browsing the web hasn't impressed me yet. I don't know if they utilize any caching. I surf on over to CNN's website and watch the bottom bar in Firefox, as CNN preloads a bunch of images. It seems a bit slower than I'm used to. I slide over to my desktop computer, connected via wifi to my cable modem, and do the same. It gives me a second to contemplate life while it preloads images, just like on the Sprint connection. Maybe it's not too bad after all.

I'm wondering how this compares to Verizon Wireless Broadband. I live in Chicago, which is a "Rev. 0" EVDO market-- Sprint hasn't upgraded their network to the new super-fast "Rev. A" spec here yet. That means, based on what I've read so far, that performance should be fairly similar to what I'm getting today with my Verizon card.

I set up two laptops side by side. My older laptop gets the new Novatel USB device, and my newer one gets the Verizon Wireless card. I start them both up. This is the first time the device has been hooked to the older laptop, so it wants to download a software update. While waiting and watching the download meter, it tells me I'm getting about 26k/second on the update being downloaded.

While I wait, I log into a website on the Compaq laptop, over the Verizon Wireless connection. I start a download of a 7.3 megabyte MP3 file. According to my unscientific methodology (watching the progress bar in Firefox's download window), I'm getting around 108k/second. Uh oh. If the numbers are to be believed, so far, the Verizon Wireless card's a lot faster. But, this laptop's a lot older and slower--let's hope the Sprint connection is being affected by that.

Let's make the comparison more apples-to-apples. I remove the Novatel USB device from the older laptop and plug it into the newer one. While downloading a second MP3 file, this one 7.6 megabytes in size, I seem to be getting only about 56k/second. Still not that great, compared to the Verizon Wireless Card. At this rate, if this is the best this device can do, I'm calling Sprint for an RMA number tomorrow.

Checking the box, I see that the Novatel device comes with a special USB cable. It takes up two USB ports on the computer end. I guess this is to give the device more power from the USB bus, to help it make a better connection. I plug it in with that cable and fire it back up. The speedometer in Firefox flops around, but ends up settling down at about 62k/second.

Okay, let's try the other computer. I plug the Verizon Card into my older laptop, and fire it up. I download one of the MP3 files I had downloaded from the other computer, and again, it's averaging at least 126k/second. It's actually up to 140k/second by the end of the download of the 7.3 megabyte file.

So far, not so good. But am I testing the bandwidth speeds correctly? At that point, I set it all aside for the day.

Continues here...

Part 1 of 3 | Part 2 of 3 | Part 3 of 3

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