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Laptop data plans: comparing LTE, WiMAX, and HSPA+ by speed, price, and value

Chris Ziegler

Now that Verizon's gone official with its LTE pricing for an initial launch in some 38 markets this Sunday, we wanted to take a quick look at how it compares to the other players in the laptop data market -- after all, how much you're paying month to month can be just as big of a determining factor (if not a bigger one) in choosing a carrier than the speeds you're seeing. So how do Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T, Clear, and Rover stack up? Let's break it down.

Verizon (LTE) Verizon (EV-DO) Sprint (WiMAX) Sprint (EV-DO) Clear (WiMAX) Rover (WiMAX) AT&T
Max speed
(claimed, Mbps down / up)
12 / 5 1.4 / 0.8 10 / 6 3.1 / 1.8 10 / 6 10 / 6 "More than" 14.4Mbps down1 21 / 5.71
Speed throttling? No No No Yes Yes2 No No Yes
38 264 68 Not disclosed3 68 68 Not disclosed4 2825
(e.g., MiFi)?
No Yes Yes No6 Yes Yes Yes No
No Yes Yes Yes No No Yes Yes
Largest data plan 10GB 10GB Unlimited 5GB Unlimited Unlimited 5GB Unlimited
contract plans
(per month)
$49.99 unlimited $59.99/5GB $45
(prepaid only; $50 unlimited)
$39.99 unlimited
Contract required? Yes7 No Yes Yes8 No No No No
Cheapest overage
(per GB)
$10 $10 N/A $50 N/A N/A $50 N/A
Minimum price per GB $8 $8 N/A $12 N/A N/A $12 N/A
Maximum price per GB9 $10 $20 N/A $12 N/A N/A $175 $124.95
1These are theoretical speeds; the carrier doesn't offer "real-world" numbers.
2Only when using the iSpot, which is limited to 6Mbps down.
3Though Sprint won't provide a market figure, it says that roughly 266 million people are covered.
4Though AT&T won't provide a market figure, it says that roughly 250 million people are covered.
5Includes both HSPA and HSPA+ markets..
6Though the 3G-only MiFi can no longer be purchased in the consumer channel, the Overdrive can be used on EV-DO.
7Verizon has not clarified if no-contract pricing will be available, but currently, none has been announced.
8Sprint subsidiary Virgin Mobile offers no-contract data.
9Does not include overage charges.

Click here for an image of the chart that's viewable on your mobile device.

So as you can see, there isn't a clear-cut winner by any stretch of the imagination -- it really depends on what you're looking for -- and considering that Verizon is launching with just two USB sticks (that lack Mac compatibility) in 38 markets total, it'll be a while before they become a mass-market option. More importantly, judging from the disparity in pricing from left to right, it'll be a while yet before data plans stabilize; question is, is 10GB enough of a bucket when your network's capable of delivering real-world, low-latency speeds of 10Mbps?

Ross Miller contributed to this report.

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