T-Mobile Rocket 3.0 Hands-on: First 42 Mbps 4G Device Tested

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The $99 Rocket 3.0 is the third iteration in T-Mobile's USB cellular modem product line. While not the first Rocket product to run on the company's 4G network, it is the first to support the carrier's enhanced 42 Mbps HSPA+ wireless data infrastructure.

Setting up the Rocket 3.0 is simple, just swivel out its USB connector and attach it to your laptop. Once hooked up, the T-Mobile Connection Manager software automatically launches its install wizard. In our case, the software quickly detected the Rocket 3.0 device and sniffed out T-Mobile's wireless signal.

We tried out the Rocket 3.0 in two different coffee shops near Bryant Park in the heart of Manhattan. One location we know for sure is in T-Mobile's 4G footprint, and the other was close by but at a business we visit often.

Oddly enough, the software never reported we were in a 4G area. Even so, we definitely observed 4G data speeds. The throughput we saw ranged widely, with downloads as fast as 11.65 Mbps to as slow as 2.57 Mbps. The same fluctuation happened with upload speeds as high as 1.67 Mbps to as low as 0.32 Mbps. Anecdotally we also tried the Rocket 3.0 out in Brant Park itself and in Queens, NY and saw similar behavior.

Device Speedtest.Net Download (Mbps) Speedtest.Net Upload (Mbps)
T-Mobile Rocket 3.0 7.6 Mbps 1 Mbps
Samsung Droid Charge (Verizon LTE) 16.6 Mbps 5.3 Mbps
T-Mobile Sidekick 4G 6.1 Mbps 1.3 Mbps

On average though, the Rocket 3.0 delivered downloads of 7.6 Mbps and uploads of 1 Mbps which is in 4G territory but not exactly smoking fast. By comparison, on Verizon's 4G LTE network, the Samsung Droid Charge phone managed download speeds of 16.6 Mbps and uploads of 5.3 Mbps when we tested it earlier in the same general area. The speeds we saw from the Rocket 3.0 more closely matched network performance turned in by the T-Mobile Sidekick 4G, when we tested that device previously.  That handset, a 4G phone with a theoretical peak of up to 21 Mbps, consistently managed 6.1 Mbps (download) and 1.3 Mbps (upload).

While it's true we observed some odd behavior from the T-Mobile Rocket 3.0 and its software, the 4G performance we logged is in line with what we've seen before from T-Mobile, but not significantly better. If we hear that things have changed and the network is greatly improved, we'll report back ASAP.

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