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Sprint Needs to Make it Easier to Transition from MiFi to Overdrive/4G



For the past several months we’ve been inundated with Sprint ads for the EVO 4G and other smartphones, despite the fact that the wireless company hasn’t oficially launched WiMax in the San Francisco Bay Area…until today. But unless you’re a San Francisco Bay Area geek you probably haven’t heard the good news.

I’ve been using Sprint’s mobile broadband service so I can work on the go for almost five years, dutifully paying $64.58 every month for the service. I’ve used the service while running around Silicon Valley, while on vacation in Hawaii, between innings at AT&T Park and in countless airport terminals. What really kicked my Sprint usage into high gear was the introduction of the Novatel MiFi, which I bought almost two years ago. Here’s a look at how I used the Sprint MiFi around my neighborhood.

Those of us toting Sprint MiFis around San Francisco are prime targets for the Sierra Wireless Overdrive. But the Overdrive has arrived in San Francisco with barely a peep. I wanted to pick up an Overdrive today and see how WiMax performed in the Bay Area before heading out to Las Vegas for CES 2011. Sprint is advertising a $49.99 web special on the Overdrive, which is a very attractive price. Unfortunately, according to I’m not eligible for a full upgrade until April 1, 2011, which means I’d have to pay $274.99, after a $75 subsidy. Since the MiFi was announced at CES 2009 and released months later, anyone with a two year contract is in the same boat as me.

I called Sprint and was told by a salesperson, who may have been in the Philippines, that I actually did qualify for the $49.99 price since I was a loyal customer. I thought that was great and told him to send me an Overdrive. But when he started to process the order he told me that I’d have to pay $275.  I asked him what the early termination fee (ETF) would be on my account.

I guess ETF was the magic word and I was transferred to an account retention specialist based in the U.S. I politely told him that I was a loyal Sprint customer, but would be exploring other 4G options if I was going to have to pay more than five times what a new Sprint mobile broadband user had to pay. He explained that the pro-rated ETF on my MiFi would be $50.  Before I could say another word he mentioned that I may be eligible to “buy out” the remainder of my contract in order to reset my eligibility to today without having to cancel and sign up for a new line.

After a brief hold he came back and said that I could indeed “buy out” the remaining four months of my contract for $45. I agreed to these terms and according to the rep this will enable me to waltz into any Sprint store or authorized retailer tomorrow afternoon and buy an Overdrive for the same price as a new customer. I can also take advantage of that $49.99 offer I spotted at to begin with.

I don’t expect Sprint to offer me more subsidies than I ‘deserve,’ but it really needs to make it easier for loyal customers to move up from 3G to 4G modems. Its spent billions of dollars to bring 4G to market and the carrier is now suffering from a ‘last mile’ problem. The last mile in this case is the all-important step of actually getting customers to buy the service.

Sprint can solve this problem by simply training its salespeople to offer the $50 or so buyout as soon as they express intrest in upgrading or being upfront about prorated ETFs. It wasn’t that long ago that carriers used to charge full ETFs even if customers were just days from the end of their contracts.

The current scheme Sprint has going for existing customers is a real turn off. While I was on hold and talking to Sprint’s salespeople, I was browsing the competitions’ offers. Verizon’s LTE service has received rave reviews and Clear is virtually identical to Sprint in most ways, except there are some attractive bundles available.

We’ve been waiting for WiMax for ages here in the heart of geek land. The least Sprint could do us roll out the welcome mat and make it easier for early adopters to jump on board.



  1. Ricky Cadden

    12/28/2010 at 10:04 pm

    So….I’m not sure I get the point of this article. You were OK with the fact that you signed a contract and were required to honor that – hence your willingness to pay the $50 of pro-rated ETF. I’m definitely glad this didn’t turn into a whiney entitlement post – great job there.

    As best I can tell, you’re simply annoyed because the first rep didn’t offer you the pro-rated ETF to begin with, correct? That, I can agree, is simply a customer service failure.

    What’s interesting is that for its post-paid customers that have either 1. been with the company for 10 years or more or 2. are on a $69.99+ individual or $129.99+ family plan, they are automatically entered into Sprint’s Premier/VIP/Whatever program, which gives the line the full $150 upgrade discount after only 12 months instead of 24.

    Given how often people need to upgrade their USB stick (half past never, really), I wish Sprint would let you upgrade after only 12 months, instead of 24 if you’re on the $60 data card plan. I would bet that hardly anyone would use it, so it wouldn’t cost them much to extend this offer to customers, and it would get quite a bit of positive press, as well.

  2. Xavier Lanier

    12/28/2010 at 10:13 pm

    The point of this article is that Sprint should be doing more to make it easier for customers to upgrade to 4G. As a geek, I know about pro-rated ETFs and such. The salesperson really wanted to sell me the device at $275 and as I mentioned I had to bring up the issue of the ETF/credit.

    Sprint could convert a ton of customers from 3G to 4G by simply emailing out an offer or setting up an account alert for MiFi users that log in at

    The only local ads I’ve seen from Sprint recently are for its 4G Android devices.

  3. Tabbyjason

    12/28/2010 at 11:10 pm

    Should have waited a little longer. Sprint is about to launch an updated Mifi 3G/4G in January. It is going to be better than the Overdrive.

    • Xavier Lanier

      12/29/2010 at 12:37 am

      I need it for CES 2011, which starts in a week.

  4. Wazupwiturface

    12/29/2010 at 12:31 am

    that’s like saying they should have let everyone who wanted one get an upgrade to the evo with or without an upgrade available…

    As a seller of clear and sprint, clear offers the same 3g/4g devices on the same identical network at a cheaper price…and signing the two year contract waives the 35 dollar activation fee breaking the contract cost you a flat 40 so your only out 5 bucks…

    While I love sprint its only because of their untouchable 69.99 plan nothing else

    • Xavier Lanier

      12/29/2010 at 12:38 am

      Not saying that at all. Paying off the previous MiFi is fine by me. The problem I have here is that they’re not clearly communicating options or giving 4G modems much fanfare.

  5. tivoboy

    12/29/2010 at 8:20 pm

    So, apparently from friends in NYC and CHI who have done this, if you gone into a store, they will just give you the 4G overdrive version, take your old one and keep you on your current plan or extend it depending on what your contract says. Online probably isn’t setup to do this easily, and sales support is the same. Ecare chat online could probably do it for you though. Can you get to a store?

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