How To Get Online Wirelessly - No Coffee Shop Required


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One of the hottest technology trends around today is the ability to get online anywhere, anytime. Without a WISP (Wireless ISP) service in your area, or wifi at Starbucks, your favorite coffee shop, or even some McDonalds and Burger Kings, you don't have a choice, you cannot get online. Or at least that was true in the past.

The major cellular vendors are beefing up their networks for what is believed to be one of the “next big things". You see, these vendors like Verizon Wireless, Sprint PCS/Nextel, Cingular, and T-Mobile have all invested millions of dollars in providing cellular towers across the country so that you can get a cell signal in almost any decently populated areas. Competition is fierce, and each carrier is looking for some kind of value-added service or function to entice customers to switch to their service.

One of the biggest things they have done recently is to allow you to get online from your laptop computer using one of their “air cards", sometimes known as an “EVDO card". These cards plug into the PCMCIA slot on your laptop (almost all laptops have a PCMCIA slot), and as long as you can pick up a decent signal from that carrier's cell tower, you can get online with your laptop and this manufacturer-specific air card!

Verizon and Cingular appear to be leading the pack with this technology, with new high-speed hotspots appearing regularly across the country. Sprint is also investing heavily into creating more Sprint-specific hotspot areas for their service. T-Mobile also has this service available. With these carriers, you can get the “data-only" plan without being required to have one of that carrier's voice/cell service plans.

From a performance perspective, T-Mobile trails the pack significantly. Although their plan is the cheapest (about $30 per month for unlimited access), performance is barely as good as a dial-up connection. But if dial-up speed is sufficient for you, this can be a very mobile and cost-effective option.

As of the end of February 2006, in areas where Verizon had their high-speed option available, average download speed was measured at 563k, which is a speed that many home DSL or cable users don't get as high as. Verizon currently has this service available in about 70 markets. About 38% of responders reported seeing speeds greater than 600k.

In areas where the high-speed version of the Sprint equivalent is available, average download speed is reported as 641k, and is available in about 108 markets nationwide. About 47% reported seeing speeds higher than 600k regularly.

The Cingular equivalent reported an average download speed of 581k in areas where the service is available.

Be SURE to set your expectations correctly. A strong cell signal is required from the carrier providing the service to get the best possible speed, in the same sense that a voice cell connection may be scratchy if the cell signal in a given location is marginal. In areas that can deliver this data service but have not yet been upgraded to provide the high-speed option, typical connection speed (again with a strong cell signal) is reported as significantly less, around 152k as an average, or about 3 times the speed of a decent dial-up connection.

The plans can be a bit pricey, but you're paying for truly mobile connectivity without being tied to an Ethernet cable and modem, or a particular coffee shop hotspot offering wireless like Starbucks. The plans run about $80 per month for unlimited access, although Verizon recently announced a plan offering their unlimited access plan for $60 if you also get a 2 year voice cellular plan with it (at additional cost of course). The carriers also have cheaper plans with a monthly data transfer limit, but be very aware that if you start using this regularly, the overage charges will end up costing much more than just opting for the “unlimited" plan in the first place.

The good news is that it's easier to learn about, shop, and compare ALL of these plans and the “air cards" now than it ever has been.

In fact here's 2 resources that will help you do just that:

EVDO Forums

The additional good news is that a LOT of people are not aware that this capability exists, and it exists at a price that is much less than it was only a year or two ago! So take advantage of the possibilities. . . . and expand your wireless experience!

Michael is the owner of FreedomFire Communications. . . .including and . Michael also authors Broadband Nation where you're always welcome to drop in and catch up on the latest BroadBand news, tips, insights, and ramblings for the masses.


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