What's Good: T-Mobile's HSPA+ network offers fantastic data speeds, and the company's monthly data plans are very competitive.
What's Bad: Despite an aggressive rollout schedule, HSPA+ is still limited to select markets in the US.
The Verdict: T-Mobile's HSPA+ speeds are awesome, and their 5 GB data plan is one of the cheapest in the industry. If you have HSPA+ coverage in your area, it's worth serious consideration.
As the data wars heat up, acronyms like WiMAX, HSPA+, LTE, 3G, and 4G are becoming more and more popular. Instead of jumping on the 4G bandwagon right away, T-Mobile decided to build out and improve their 3G network via a technology called HSPA+, which offers a zippy theoretical download speed of 21 Mbps. T-Mobile released the HSPA+-capable webConnect Rocket data stick earlier in the year, and they're back at it with the ZTE (T-Mobile) webConnect Rocket 2.0. In addition to some design changes, it's now compatible with the Mac platform.
The webConnect Rocket 2.0 is silver, supports both PC and Mac platforms, and ships in a small box with the device, a carrying pouch, USB extender, and instruction manuals. Manufactured by ZTE, it measures in at 3.4 inches tall by 1.1 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick. It weighs 1.1 ounces, so it's easy to stow in the pocket or briefcase. The top part (with the logo) pops off to reveal the SIM card slot and a microSD card slot. The USB port swivels 180 degrees to the left or the right, and retracts into the device when it's not in use. A status light is located to the left of the T-Mobile logo, and illuminates depending on the status of the data card.
The device ships with T-Mobile's webConnect Manager (installed on the data card), and in my experience with the Mac version of the software, it works well. There's a very useful Usage Manager installed that allows users to get an idea of their data use for the month. You can access T-Mobile's myAccount portal from the application.
As stated before, HSPA+'s theoretical speed is up to 21 Mbps, and while you'll (probably) never see that number in real-time testing, T-Mobile's network is quite speedy. In a fringe area, I was able to attain an average download speed of 3.08 Mbps, and an average upload speed of 1.21 Mbps. While traveling through the middle of the city, I attained download speeds between 4-5 Mbps, and upload speeds between 1.3-2.5 Mbps. It's incredibly fast - so fast, in fact, that I often used the webConnect Rocket 2.0 when I needed to upload a video. The upload speeds were often faster than my office connection.
With Sprint's 4G (WiMAX) service also available in my area, I figured it would be fitting to compare the two (particularly since T-Mobile advertises HSPA+ as "4G-like speeds"). Based on my testing, it regularly soared past Sprint's 4G. While working with the EVO 4G and Epic 4G, the highest download speed I was able to attain was 1,374 Kbps, with an upload speed of 1,029 Kbps. Interestingly enough, Sprint's 4G upload speeds were 200-300 Kbps faster than the download speeds.
That's not to say that it's the same nationwide (in other words, Sprint's 4G could be faster where you live), but I was pleasantly surprised at how fast T-Mobile's HSPA+ speeds were. If it's any indicator of what the forthcoming G2's HSPA+ data speeds will be like, it should sell well.
Despite T-Mobile's aggressive push to blanket the country with HSPA+ coverage, it's still limited to select cities in the United States. If you're in one of the aforementioned markets, data speeds are excellent. If you're not in one of those areas, T-Mobile's HSPA and HSDPA speeds are still solid, but obviously not as fast. T-Mobile plans to deliver HSPA+ coverage to 100 metropolitan areas, which covers 185 million people, by the end of the year.
If you're looking for a data solution and you're in an HSPA+ market, T-Mobile's webConnect Rocket is where it's at. The speeds are incredibly fast, and at $39.99 per month (5 GB), it's the cheapest standalone data option from a nationwide carrier. Additionally, T-Mobile has eliminated overages, so data speeds will be throttled back after 5 GB versus dealing with a high overage bill. It's completely dependent on where you're located. If you're in an area with HSPA+ coverage, take a serious look at the webConnect Rocket 2.0. If you're in a small city with no T-Mobile 3G coverage, a carrier like Verizon (which offers an expansive rural 3G network) might suit your needs better.
The webConnect Rocket 2.0 is available through T-Mobile for $49.99 with an Even More plan, or $199.99 on an Even More Plus plan.