It’s not infrequently that I, and my neighbors and friends, shake a frustrated fist—literally and figuratively—at Time Warner Cable (TWC), the sole Internet service provider in our neighborhood.
So great is the general desire for some high-speed Internet competition that I have heard a grown man whimper at the sight of a Verizon Fios truck driving past. And when Time Warner and Comcast testified that their proposed merger wouldn’t damage industry competition because their service areas barely overlap, my reaction was: First tell us why that is.
That is all to say, it was with open arms and crossed fingers that I welcomed a Netgear LTE Gateway 6100D router into my home office.
About the size of a cable box, the Gateway houses a SIM card that accesses Sprint’s LTE Spark network and converts it into a WiFi signal. Or, if you prefer to use an Ethernet cable, there are four ports on the back of the box.
In short, it works. And it’s fast.
The unit gets plugged into an outlet, there’s a little power button to press, and in about 20 seconds, things inside the box light up in a somehow-speed-suggesting shade of blue, et voila: high-speed Internet access.
Sprint offers a Website where you can adjust your settings, change the password, receive technical information and make various choices—the front of the Gateway shows icons for 3G, LTE, WiFi, WAN, LAN, USB and Internet.
While I did go to the site—which also displays your data usage—I frankly cared about one thing: hitting the power button and getting high-speed Internet, period.
Like my Sprint-attached smartphone, the Gateway worked better when positioned near a window, rather than in the center of my brick-walled apartment. On the days I sat the Gateway on my office window sill, it worked so well that I’d forget I wasn’t using my TWC-based router. Until, sometimes once a day, it would crash, or service would pop in and out (I’d see the email icon in my toolbar go dark, indicating that the connection had been lost), and I’d have to restart it. After that, it would usually work just fine again. (Sometimes it took longer than just a few minutes.)
This restarting business may have been annoying if I weren’t used to doing the same, sometimes once a day, with the TWC connection.
The bottom line, though—or maybe more accurately, a bottom line—is it works and it’s fast. Was it 100 percent of the time on par with the experience of my cable service connected to a WiFi router? No. But if you’re fed up with the sole cable option where you live, or if you often work remotely and need a transportable high-speed solution that can also support several people, the Netgear LTE Gateway from Sprint is a truly viable option.
There Are Considerations
So, yes, the Gateway does resemble a cable box, standing on its side, but there is actually one other component: two antenna paddles that screw (no screwdriver required) into the back of the unit to increase reception.
Sprint’s Netgear LTE Gateway Is a Plan B to ISPs
The day I unpacked the Gateway and was setting up the paddles, my husband literally stopped short as he entered the room. “Can you not turn that on until I leave the house, please?” he asked.
His father is a space physicist who works with NASA, and he was raised with maybe overly generous concern about radiation. (From his father, I’ve learned that one of the dumbest things ordinary people do is stare into the microwave while their food cooks. If you do this, please stop.)
Certainly, Sprint has had the Gateway properly tested, and certainly, all the necessary official bodies have approved it and declared it safe. But as a person who takes seriously the very fine print that comes with smartphones, instructing people not to actually touch them to their heads, having those giant LTE-attracting paddles near to my desk gave me, to say the least, pause.
When I unpacked the Gateway, my first thought was that it looks very much like a first-version design—like that in two years’ time it will be one-sixth the size. A later thought was that those antenna paddles, too, are likely to get reconsidered.
Paying for Data
The other major consideration regarding the Gateway is pricing.
The unit itself costs $199, or basically 24 payments of $8.34. (The 24th payment is a few cents less.)
Service plans for the router start at $14.99 a month for 100MB, with overage fees of $0.25 for each additional megabyte, and go up 12GB a month for $79.99. There are also 1GB ($19.99 a month), 3GB ($34.99) and 6GB ($49.99) plans.
Checking Sprint’s user portal right now, it says I used 120MB over the last 54 minutes. (I watched a few minutes of videos, sent emails, read some news and clicked through a slide show, but mostly I’ve been writing this.) Basically, using LTE data for workaday computing adds up, which is the main complaint of reviewers on the Sprint site.
One person, who says the Gateway was purchased to support a roving team of auditors, calls the service speed “fantastic and everything you would expect.” While the Gateway can support up to 64 users, this person says 10 people are using it, for a total of about 30 devices. He writes, “We burned through the 45GB in less than 15 days.”
Another person said he lives on a farm without access to DSL or cable Internet service, and after attaching an antenna on his roof for the Gateway, has a “great wireless signal throughout the house.” But, he added, “We watched a single movie on Netflix, and it ate up 3G of the 6Gs of our monthly plan.”
The Netgear Gateway isn’t a perfect first choice for solid workday use. But if you’re low on options, it is certainly something to consider, along with a sufficient data plan.
Better, it’s a great option to have as a backup, if your initial Internet service is spotty, or for infrequent use in a remote office.
I suspect Netgear and Sprint will continue to tweak the router, and the data pricing, and that all the wireless carriers will continue to edge in on the cable providers’ turf. While the carriers like to talk about “simple choices,” in the Internet service provider space, a person can feel grateful for any choice.