I was a bit surprised getting my hands on Global Telecom’s NetStick USB Modem. For one, it doesn’t support 5G, but just 4G LTE. Secondly, it’s too bulky to carry around easily.
The cellular modem is plug-n-play — it’s a no-brainer to use. Unfortunately, though, in my testing, it was slow compared to other mobile internet solutions.
Available at Sprint’s store, the NetStick USB modem costs $180 (or $7.55/month for 24 months), data not included. Unless you need a cellular modem for some reason, and that’d better be some big reason, I’d recommend the MiFi 8000 hotspot instead.
NetStick USB Modem: Convenient but bulky design
For a USB cellular modem, the NetStick is huge, measuring 7.3 x 1.6 x .63 inches (18.5 x 40.1 x 1.6 cm). It’s also relatively heavy at 1.76 ounces (50 grams). Overall, don’t expect to carry it inside a pocket, the way you do most mobile hotspots.
On one end, the modem has a USB Type-A connector that can swivel 180 degrees, so you can easily plug it into a laptop. On a desktop, though, you’ll need to use the included base — the modem is just too large to fit into the computer’s back, which tends to be busy with other wires.
It’s important to note that the NetStick doesn’t use USB-C. For this reason, you’ll need an adapter if you want to use it with the latest laptops that don’t have a regular USB-A port anymore. And in that case, the bulky size makes the modem impractical.
I traveled with the NetStick for more than a week and often found it obstructing my movements. The modem is so massive that, when swiveled up, it’d be in the way when I need to, say, pick up my coffee. When left straightened out, it’d hit stuff when I moved the laptop from one place to another.
NetStick USB Modem: Completely plug-n-play setup
The best thing about the NetStick USB Modem is the fact it is plug-n-play. All you have to do is plug it into a computer, and that’s it. After about 30 seconds, the host computer — running Windows 10 or macOS in my testing — would recognize it as a network connection. And then, just like when you plug a network cable into the machine, you’ll get connected to the Internet.
That’s, of course, with the assumption you have a data plan with the modem. There’s a small compartment on the NetStick, open it, and you’ll find a NanoSIM slot. In the U.S, the modem is locked to Sprint. However, Global Telecom told me that it could be certified to work with other carriers, maybe in the future.
It would be nice if the modem were unlocked. At least I’d be able to test it with AT&T or Verizon.
NetStick USB Modem: Slow cellular speed
The ease of use can compensate for the bulky design, but not for the performance. I tested the NetStick using Speedtest.net for more than a week while traveling during the holidays, and its speed was consistently underwhelming.
To compare apples to apples, I used the cellular modem alongside the MiFi 8000, which is another 4G LTE mobile internet solution from Sprint, and the NetStick was always much slower. At a place where I got around 9 Mbps internet connection from it — almost the fastest in my entire trial –, the MiFi 8000 delivered close to 30 Mbps, at the same time.
Fluctuation is the nature of any cellular connection, but the NetStick is just slow. Generally, you’ll get mobile broadband speeds between around 2Mbps and 10Mbps from it. That’s fast enough for most applications but most definitely slow for a 4G LTE device.
Cellular modems can generally get better performance via firmware updates. If you own the NetStick you sure will hope that’s the case.
Considering the popularity of mobile hotspots, I’m not sure what the purpose of the NetStick USB Modem is.
If you say it’s for a computer that doesn’t have a built-in Wi-Fi adapter, the modem is just a bit too huge to be practical. For those looking for a backup internet solution that they can plug into a router that has a cellular WAN mode, the NetStick is too slow to be worth the consideration.
Generally, the slow speed is always the deal-breaker. So to appreciate the NetStick USB Modem’s ease-of-use, you’ll have a look past its lackluster performance and bulky design. But even then, you’ll probably conclude that this modem got to the market at least a few years too late.