Gadling gear review – Cricket Wireless wireless broadband service

Cricket Wireless may sound like a new mobile operator to you, but they have been around for many years, and have become the 7th largest operator in the country. With over 4 million subscribers, they have quietly been expanding across the nation, and operate a 3G CDMA network of their own.

In this review, I’m going to give you a look at their wireless broadband adapter, and explain why it is a fantastic deal.

The Cricket A600 modem used in this review is a compact EVDO Revision A adapter. It weighs just 1.28 ounces and features a rotating/folding USB connector and an integrated MicroSD card reader.
Installation of the modem is a breeze – its software is stored on internal memory inside the modem. This means you can install it on any PC (or Mac) without having to bring a CD or find a way to download the latest drivers.

By now, you are probably wondering why I’m covering this here on Gadling – so let me explain the biggest advantage Cricket has over any of their competition: price. At just $40/month for unlimited mobile broadband, they are the cheapest nationwide operator on the market. One other huge advantage is that Cricket does not require you to sign a contract or pass a credit check. This opens up their service to anyone who needs access to speedy wireless broadband, but does not want to commit to a 2 year contract like required by other operators.

Once installed, the Cricket wireless broadband application provides a simple one-click way to get online. It displays your connection status and signal strength (LED’s on the modem itself also show this).

The connection manager is also where you’ll find log files and statistics which is handy if you need to see how much data you have used. Even though the service is sold as unlimited, it still comes with the same 5GB limit found on every other wireless broadband operator.

Once you reach 5GB, you won’t suddenly find yourself without a wireless connection, you’ll just start seeing slower transfers. Web and email access probably won’t suffer too much, but don’t expect to be doing too much in the way of movie streaming or other high speed downloads.

Connecting takes about 5 seconds, and once online, transmission speeds are quite acceptable. The download speeds are on par with what you’ll usually get (on average) from other 3G operators, and the upload speed is on the high end of the spectrum. Of course, these speeds all depend on location and signal quality – for my test, I was getting “2 bars” (out of 3).

Now, back to the price – $40/month is $20 lower than what most other operators charge for unlimited wireless broadband. The current offer from Cricket (on their site) is for a free modem (after a $50 mail in rebate), free first month, free shipping and a $25 activation fee. If you already have (or add) a Cricket voice plan, you get an additional $5/month discount on the broadband fee, bringing it down to just $35!

There is of course a catch to this low price – the Cricket network is not as extensive as some other operators. When compared to Verizon Wireless and Sprint, Cricket covers a much smaller area. Compared to the 3G coverage on T-Mobile, Cricket is better.

I tested the service on a trip from Chicago to Milwaukee and was surprised to see that my entire route had a rock solid 3G signal. T-Mobile dropped to slow EDGE as soon as I left the Chicagoland area, and even dropped to slow GPRS in parts of Wisconsin.

The Cricket coverage map provides a very good street level indication of what you can expect in your own area (or destination). Put simply – many major cities have excellent Cricket broadband coverage, but outside those cities the broadband coverage is not always going to be present.

I’m quite happy with the Cricket service – speeds may be a little lower than what other 3G operators offer, and their coverage is still fairly limited, but at $20/month cheaper, and no contract or credit check, they are a very worthy offering in the busy wireless broadband market.

The service is perfect for someone who needs connectivity in places where the only option is no connectivity, or slow/expensive WiFi. With some WiFi locations charging as much as $12.95/day for getting online, the $40 fee for Cricket could be very easy to justify.

PRO’S: Price, no contract requirement, speed, upload speeds
CON’S: Limited coverage, download speeds could be faster

Cricket Wireless is available through their website, or a Cricket Wireless retail location.