Sprint Broadband Gets Mixed Grade From Consumers
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While cable and digital subscriber line providers fought for first-to-market bragging rights, a little-publicized third broadband option started to generate a word-of-mouth buzz.
Fixed wireless Internet services, once thought the only alternative for rural residents who weren't close enough to the central office to get digital subscriber line service and didn't have the benefit of cable for enhanced cable Internet access, is making waves on the national scene.
And not just in the backwoods.
Customers in major cities tired of the weeks, sometimes months, it takes to get spotty DSL service are turning to companies like Sprint for their broadband connections.
This, despite evident growing pains in this third pipe of broadband service.
While consumer forums have posted glowing reviews to Sprint's installation and customer service response times, a clear improvement over DSL many say, speed and consistency issues remain a sticking point.
San Jose, Calif., resident Jim Schrempp made the switch to fixed wireless last month, a would-be convert from the frustrations he found trying to use DSL. After a surprisingly quick installation, he soon ran into inconsistent upload speeds.
"About a month ago I had Sprint installed," Schrempp said. "Since then the (upload) speed goes from blindingly fast, to very slow. While Sprint advertises 'upload speeds as high as 256kb,' the service techs tell me anything over 40 (kb) is considered 'within spec.'
"(It) seems like false advertising to me," Schrempp continued. "I might be happy with a consistent 40kb, but my line often tests out at 13kb or even 7kb. I'd be better off with a 9600 baud modem."
According to Marlon Schafer, owner of Washington-based Odessa Office Equipment, slow speeds and latency are the signs of a crowded network.
"A system of poor design or massively over-subscribed will in a wireless world, just like in a wired one, cause a myriad of problems, slow speeds and poor reliability being two of the more obvious," Schafer said. "The radio waves are fast and distances fairly short, in relation to satellite or wire services, so there is no reason for ping times to be slow in a well-designed system."
Sprint's broadband division has been rolling out fixed wireless for more than a year now, using its multi-channel, multi-point distribution service, called Sprint Broadband Direct. Currently running in 12 markets, Sprint filed for an additional 45 in August.
Evan Conway, Sprint's broadband division vice president of marketing, concedes the speed issues, but said improvements are on the way to alleviate the network strain.
"From a speed issue, that's something that we're looking at improving immediately," Conway said. "In the next 30 to 60 days, customers are going to see two things from us with their wireless connection; improving upload speeds and improving latency, especially in areas with the most customers.
"What's out there right now is basically our first generation of wireless equipment, and we feel that it's performed remarkably well," Conway continued. "In general, we're very pleased with the rollout. We proved a basic tenant of fixed wireless service; that it works. We're getting ready for our second generation of equipment by the end of the year, which will improve peer capacity, line of sight requirements and offer voice over IP service, to name a few."