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What is EVDO / Mobile Broadband?

This article contains a plethora of information on EVDO and mobile broadband (how fast it is, how it works, what types of people use it, and more) - if you'd like to read just the basics and find out what you need to use mobile broadband, we recommend reading the concise "Mobile Broadband Basics" guide, which covers all the essentials: what you need in order to use mobile broadband, what the service options are, etc.

Getting online and being able to connect with friends, family, news, and the office is more important now than ever, but what happens if you're one of the millions of Americans without access to traditional broadband like cable or DSL, stuck in a hotel without WiFi, or cruising at 65mph down the highway in your Winnebago?

The answer is mobile broadband! Mobile broadband provides completely wireless internet access. You take the internet with you and surf the web in your car, on the train, in the airport, at a convention, on the road in your RV... you can even share the connection with multiple computers using a mobile broadband router, just like you could with your broadband connection at home!

"Mobile Broadband" is a generic term that describes this type of internet connectivity, but there are a few related terms that will be helpful to understand. EVDO, or Evolution Data Only/Evolution Data Optimized, is a 3G mobile broadband technology used by Verizon, Sprint and other providers that provides typical download speeds of 600-1400kbps (with bursts up to 3100kbps). The technology is an evolution of CDMA2000 — known separately as 1xRTT for voice and 1xEVDO for data transfer. This article focuses mainly on EVDO mobile broadband.

But let’s back up for a second — what is 3G? This refers to third-generation wireless technology first introduced in 1999 that provides a minimum data transfer speed of 0.2 Mbps. There are several 3G telecommunication standards in addition to EVDO. HSPA is another 3G technology that is used by AT&T and T-Mobile. Carriers in regions such as Europe and Japan that primarily have GSM infrastructure often use UMTS for 3G voice and data.

4G is the next (fourth) generation of mobile broadband technology. In the comparison of 3G vs. 4G, the latter offers much faster data speeds of up to 1 Gbps. Verizon introduced 4G network technology called LTE (Long-Term Evolution) in late 2010 which has since evolved into LTE advanced. 4G is the current cellular broadband standard and is MUCH faster than 3G technologies like EVDO.

What is EVDO? Just the Basics:

  • EVDO stands for Evolution Data Optimized
  • EVDO is a 3G mobile broadband technology ("3G" simply stands for "third generation")
  • EVDO Rev-A is the current version of EVDO available from Sprint and Verizon. EVDO Rev-0 was the original technology. Rev-A is faster than Rev-0. All of the currently available EVDO modems from Sprint and Verizon are Rev-A.
  • Personal broadband wireless service for a wide range of customers, from business people to students
  • Always on - just like a cell phone
  • Utilizes CDMA signal
  • Where EVDO isn't available, 2G/1x data capability is available everywhere you have have cellphone voice service
  • Allows the user to be connected wherever they are are not only for email, but for downloads, large files, photos, spreadsheets, etc.
  • Advantages over WiFi:
    • Always on with seamless roaming!
    • Signal can travel on same cell sites as cell phones
    • You are your OWN hotspot - you're not relying on someone else's internet connection
    • No 300-ft range from the cell tower or "hotspot"
    • Customers can access their corporate VPN (virtual private network) anywhere they can get a cellular signal via a secure, encrypted signal
    • Can download and run video clips in real time
    • Can provide service to customers outside of cable-modem or DSL areas
  • Relatively low cost with high capacity - allows rich web browsing and application usage
  • EVDO Rev A provides speeds of 600Kbps-1,400Kbps Download (bursts to 3.1Mbps), 500Kbps-800Kbps Upload (bursts to 1.8Mbps) - comparable to home DSL service.

How does it work?

EVDO works similarly to the way your cell phone operates in that it relies on signal from a wireless tower rather than a physical connection like a phone line or cable. An EVDO modem (often referred to as an "aircard") receives the signal and allows you to connect to the internet — it’s as simple as that! EVDO modems come in several formats: USB dongle, ExpressCard, PCMCIA card or all-in-one hotspot (like a MiFi/jetpack), and you can use them either directly in your computer or in a 3G compatible router.

Of course, like your cell phone, the modem alone doesn't provide internet access — you must subscribe to the service from an EVDO provider. Sprint and Verizon both offer EVDO service with a various monthly allowances, and both charge overage fees for usage exceeding the allowance. For more information on what you can do with different amounts of data, see our data usage calculator.

Who uses EVDO, 3G, and/or 4G?

There are countless reasons to use EVDO or other mobile broadband technologies and we have helped customers get set up for a huge variety of applications! Below are just a few common ways people use EVDO:

  • Mobile applications: Cars, trucks, RV's, commercial service/fleet vehicles, shuttles, carpool/vanpool, transit (busses, trains, ferries), taxis/limos, private/commercial vessels
  • Portable uses: Mobile work teams, trade shows, conferences, conventions, vacations, commute access, emergency response setup
  • Fixed-location customers: Backup to cable/DSL/T-1, dial-up alternative, satellite alternative

How fast is EVDO?

EVDO Rev A has a peak data rate of 3,000 kbps, but realistic speeds average around 600Kbps-1,400Kbps Download with bursts to 2.0Mbps and 500Kbps-800Kbps Upload with bursts to 1.8Mbps.
Here is a real-world speedtest done using a USB760 on Verizon's network in Dallas, Tx with a very strong signal:

How does EVDO compare to other technologies?

The best aspect of EVDO (to most users) is the mobility it offers, but EVDO is also FAST for 3G technology! With a good signal, EVDO Rev A averages about 600-1400Kbps download with upload speeds averaging between 500-800Kbps. Here is how it stacks up to other common internet technologies:

  • EVDO Rev A (3G): 600Kbps - 1,400Kbps Down (with bursts to 3.1Mbps); 500Kbps-800Kbps Up (with bursts to 1.8Mbps)
  • LTE (4G): 5-12Mbps download with bursts up to 20Mbps, 2-5Mbps upload
  • 1xRTT (Sprint & Verizon 2G, AKA "NationalAccess"): 50Kbps - 100Kbps with bursts up to 144kbps Down/Up
  • EDGE (AT&T 2G): 50Kbps - 100Kbps Down/Up
  • HSPA (AT&T 3G): 700-1700kbps Down; 500-1200kbps upload
  • DSL: Varies based on provider. Average appoximately 1500Kbps Down; 128Kbps Up
  • Cable: Varies based on provider. Average appoximately 1000-5000Kbps Down; 200-800Kbps Up
  • Satellite: 512Kbps - 1500Kbps Down; 128 - 256Kbps Up
  • Dial-Up: 56Kbps Down/Up

1xRTT (AKA NationalAccess)

1xRTT is a 2G (second generation) technology that has been available a lot longer than EVDO and is available just about anywhere cell phone coverage is for Verizon or Sprint. 1xRTT has a maximum of 144K upload and download, but the typical speeds are 50K - 80K. When EVDO is not available, your EVDO modem or phone will automatically connect to 1XRTT if available. While considerably slower than EVDO, 1xRTT is a huge boon to travelers - if you find yourself in a remote location with no EVDO you'll still be able to remain connected!

Is there EVDO service at my home/office/destination?

Both Verizon and Sprint offer EVDO in many areas of the USA, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico (note: using EVDO in Canada and Mexico requires specific devices and plans). To check coverage at your location, use the coverage maps and compare Sprint's and Verizon's coverage.

If EVDO is NOT available in a particular location, 1xRTT (aka "National Access"), may be available. In areas where EVDO is not available, your EVDO-enabled device (including aircards, USB modems, ExpressCards, phones, or embedded devices) will attempt to connect to the 1xRTT network. Generally, if your carrier has cell phone coverage in a particular area, there should be 1xRTT coverage even if EVDO has not yet arrived there.

Can I share an EVDO connection with multiple computers/devices?
EVDO modems are made to plug directly into your computer's USB port or card slot, but what if you have two computers that need internet access? You do not need a separate device and second line of service — simply plug the modem into a 3G-compatible router and share the connection! 3G routers like the ones sold by 3GStore work just like the average cable/DSL router you might have used in the past for a home/office DSL or cable modem connection. The difference is that 3G routers have the unique ability to support cellular modems as their source of internet connectivity. With a router that supports your cellular device, you can plug your USB modem, ExpressCard, PCMCIA card or even your EVDO-capable cell phone into the 3G router and instantly create your own Wi-Fi network!
What about antennas and amplifiers?

Signal strength can influence your modem's performance greatly. If you have a weak signal, an antenna and/or amplifier can improve your signal and thus your download and upload speeds. Most of the currently available Sprint and Verizon 3G and 4G modems feature ports where you can attach an external antenna and a wide variety are available, from small portable antennas to larger antennas that you mount to your home or office. If you need to provide a signal boost to multiple cellular devices at once, this is possible as well with a wireless amplifier (AKA "repeater").
Can I use EVDO overseas?

Most of Europe uses GSM, which is not compatible with EVDO, so EVDO will NOT work overseas. Check with your carrier to see what international options are available.