Sprint to Offer Sierra Wireless 4G LTE Tri-Fi Hotspot

Sprint's Sierra Wireless 4G LTE Tri-Fi hotspot combines LTE and WiMAX networks, with data plans starting at $34.99.

Telecommunications provider Sprint is jumping onto the WiFi hotspot bandwagon and pulling the market into the fourth generation in a new way, offering the Sierra Wireless 4G LTE Tri-Fi hotspot, the first device to combine 4G connections over Long-Term Evolution and WiMAX networks. The hotspot, which will be available on May 18, will be offered with data plans, starting at $34.99 for 3GB of combined 3G/4G data while on the Sprint network. Customers also can choose the $49.99 plan with 6GB of combined 3G/4G data or $79.99 for 12GB of 3G/4G data.

The hotspot, which allows up to eight WiFi-enabled devices to connect to the company€™s network, also boasts a microSD slot to allow teams to share files and presentations with network storage. It can also be used as a digital media server. Sprint will sell the device through select company retail stores, online and via business sales for $99.99, after a $50 mail-in rebate with a two-year service agreement.

A detailed display screen provides the information needed for daily use, including the hotspot name and access code, battery life, number of devices connected, and whether the current connection to the network is 3G or 4G, while a 3,600mAh battery provides enough power for up to eight hours of use and up to eight weeks on standby. Sprint singled out the health care market, transportation workers, engineering firms and shoe-leather journalists as ideal users of the device.

The Sprint 4G LTE network is expected in mid-2012 in limited markets, with customers in Atlanta; Baltimore; Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, Texas; and Kansas City anticipated to be among the first to benefit from the coverage. The initial devices already announced to run on 4G LTE will be Samsung Galaxy Nexus, LG Viper 4G LTE and the Tri-Network hotspot. Sprint has already launched more than 25 4G-enabled smartphones, USB connection cards, notebook/netbook products, mobile hotspots and routers.

Rival carriers AT&T and Verizon also offer their own versions of hotspot devices. Last year, AT&T released two devices that can access the company€™s 4G LTE network: a mobile WiFi hotspot and a USB stick. The company€™s first 4G LTE mobile hotspot device, the Mobile Hotspot Elevate 4G, allows access to 4G LTE speeds on up to five WiFi-enabled devices in select markets and is also manufactured by Sierra Wireless.

Verizon offers three models of its 4G-enabled Jetpack MiFi hotspots, including the 4620L, which costs $49.99 with a two-year contract and boasts a display and the ability to connect up to 10 wireless devices. The Jetpack 4510lL is free with a two-year contract and allows users to connect up to five devices. Verizon also offers a certified pre-owned model for free with a two-year contract.

If you€™re on a tighter budget, you could always take the free way: In March, NetZero Wireless, a subsidiary of United Online Inc., announced a free 4G wireless service that requires the purchase of one of two access devices: the NetZero 4G HotSpot and the NetZero 4G Stick. The 4G HotSpot simultaneously supports up to eight WiFi-enabled devices, including iPads and other tablets, within a 150-foot range.