OS X 3.1 Mbps EVDO – Sprint Novatel U720 Rev. A USB Modem

  • December 14th, 2006

UPDATE: Apple updates WWAN support for Intel based Macs – Download.

Sprint Novatel U720 USB Modem

Having previously experienced and tested the EVDO options for the MacBook Pro with the Verizon Wireless Novatel V640 ExpressCard (Rev. 0), I’ve managed to get my hands on the latest offering from Sprint – the Novatel U720 USB modem (Rev. A). Key feature differentiating this alternative wireless broadband solution is a) the modem is a USB device, b) GPS support, and c) operates on the higher speed Rev. A network with current speed bursts up to 3.1 Mbps.

Unfortunately, at the time of this posting, Sprint did not offer an OS X compatible connection manager. Additionally, Apple has not yet provided built-in driver support for the modem as they did with the Novatel V640. The easy solution for getting online with Sprint’s Novatel U720? Turn to Verizon Wireless for a little help with their OS X VZAccess Manager [confirmed on the EVDOforums].

Keep in mind that you’ll need to complete that initial activation step(s) on a Windows machine (try Parallels or Boot Camp). Be persistent as the activation may require you to attempt the process multiple times before being receiving the OTA updates.

Unofficial Sprint Novatel U720 drivers

As previously stated, the trick is locating the correct drivers for your Novatel U720. Thankfully, a lone user know as Mac.Intosh extracted the necessary drivers and packaged them up into a convenient installer which can be downloaded via the forums. Once installed, restart your Apple notebook.

Sprint now offers official driver support for all EVDO USB modems offered to its customers. Visit the Sprint Downloads page and select Mac OS from the drop down menu. Look for the "EVDO Rev A Novatel 720 Devices" download.

Again, Windows is required in order to activate and update the modem as the the above download is nothing more than required drivers. Until Sprint offers an OS X manager, PRL updates will need to be completed via Windows. I ran into a few headaches running the PRL updater via Parallels. If you experience problems with the PRL updater failing to restart the device, the safest route is to load the connection manager on to a real Windows box.

During the activation process, the connection manager may request an activation code, MDN, and MSID. Make sure that you have these figures before parting ways with sales rep.

Activated & ready for installation

Assuming you’ve followed the previous steps (downloading and installing the necessary Novatel U720 drivers using the link above) and are sure that the device is active, go ahead and plug the device into an open USB port on your notebook. The status LED should power on [green] meaning that the device is receiving enough power. If the status LED does not display a light, you’ll need to use the included USB Y-adapter to use two USB ports with the modem.

Sprint Novatel U720 USB Modem - System Preferences

Navigate to System Preferences > Network. If the drivers were installed correctly, Network preferences will prompt you with the above window. Click ‘OK’. If the Novatel modem is not displayed in the ‘Network Status’ view, select the ‘Network Status’ drop down menu and select ‘Novatel Wireless CDMA’.

Sprint Novatel U720 USB Modem - PPP SettingsUnder the ‘PPP’ settings, enter #777 for the telephone number. Select the ‘PPP Options’ button and check ‘Send PPP echo packets’ & ‘Use TCP header compression’. Click ‘OK’ and select the ‘Modem’ tab. In the modem drop down menu, select ‘WWAN Support’ and check the ‘Show modem status in menu bar’ option. Finally, select ‘Apply Now’ at the bottom of the window.

You should now see the dial-up menu bar icon. Click the icon and select ‘Connect’. If you already have a current dial-up account, ensure that the Novatel CDMA modem is selected. You should now be surfing on Sprint’s Rev. A network.

Unfortunately, due to the fact that Sprint has yet to provide a suitable connection manager, there is no way to find out the current signal strength nor current network speed. I’m crossing my fingers for true support rather than relying on the menu bar modem option.

Novatel U720 – Rev. A wireless broadband for the masses?

Sprint Novatel U720 USB Modem

By no means is the Sprint Novatel U720 a compact modem. In a culture where small and compact are synonymous with that idea called convenience, the U720 sits towards the back of the room [as far as size is concerned]. Coming from the Novatel V640 ExpressCard – which protruded out of the side of the MacBook Pro by about an inch – the switch to the U720 meant accepting the fact that the MacBook Pro would have a 3″ protrusion coming out the side. Can you live with that?

While Windows users will definitely enjoy the convenience of Sprint’s wireless broadband Rev. A network as soon as they get home [almost], OS X users are left to do a little research in order to get their notebooks to function properly. Priced at $99 (local) with an additional $50 mail-in rebate at $59.99 for unlimited usage, wireless broadband accessibility just became a little more realistic. Compare Sprint’s $59.99 unlimited data plan to Verizon Wireless’s $79.99 (data only) or $59.99 (with phone service) [10GB capped / mo.] plan and you start to see what carrier to lean towards.

Speed test – OS X & the Novatel U720

Novatel U720 USB EVDO Modem speed test results

Performance specs as reported by Speedtest.net show extraordinary results in comparison to standard Rev. 0 wireless data options for OS X. Speed test conducted outside of the downtown Seattle area (approximately 10 mi. north of Seattle).

Disclaimer & credits

A virtual pat on the back for EVDOforum users Mac.Intosh for prepackaging the required drivers into a simple installation. Sprint Novatel U720 Rev. A USB EVDO Modem was successfully tested on the following machines: a 2.33 Ghz MacBook Pro, 1.33 GHz G4 iBook, and 2.66 Mac Pro. Feel free to leave any questions, comments, or concerns in the comments below.