Phone geeks in San Francisco should be happy today.
Sprint has lit up at least part of its 4G WiMAX network here. The carrier and its WiMAX partner Clearwire have been testing the San Francisco network for the past few months, but today marks the first appearance of signal strong enough to connect my HTC EVO 4G phone.
The network probably isn't quite ready for prime time, but by the looks of the dress rehearsal it's very close. Expect a formal announcement of the new service in October--early November at the latest. Sprint 4G service in New York should become available even before that. One reliable source says October 15.
Speeds are looking good, too. I ran three speed tests of the service using my EVO 4G in and around the PCWorld offices here today.
First test: One out of three bars of 4G signal. 560 kilobits per second (kbps) of download speed and 523 kbps of upload speed. Not so good--3G speeds.
Second test: Two out of three bars of 4G. Download speed of almost 2 megabits per second (mbps) and upload speed of almost 1 mbps. Better.
Third test: Alternating between two and three out of three bars of 4G signal. Just a few clicks under 3 mbps of download speed, and about 1 mbps of upload speed. Nice--real 4G speeds.
Sprint says that where 4G service is available customers should see download speeds of between 3 mbps and 6 mbps. With download speeds above 4 mbps, some fancy applications--like videoconferencing and HD video playback--start to become possible.
A Sprint spokesperson says that in many Sprint 4G cities, the faster 4G WiMAX service won't be available everywhere in town, but where signal is strong speeds will be high. Everywhere else, mobile devices will downshift to the old 3G service.
As an HTC EVO 4G user, I have been waiting all summer for the little 4G icon on my EVO's screen to light up. In fact, I've been paying Sprint an extra $10 "4G" service fee for the past several months, so I'll be happy to actually get something for that money now.
Sprint now offers 4G service (on select devices) in more than 50 U.S. cities, and is the only U.S. carrier to offer the service so far. Verizon is expected to launch its own flavor of 4G--LTE--in two markets this November.
CORRECTION: The original version of this story said Sprint's "4G charge" is $15. It is $10.