Sunday, May 11, 2008

Wireless data cards

My business colleagues have already noticed a funny little thing in my laptop bag of late. Due to some business availability requirements, I recently started carrying a Sprint wireless card (from Millenicom) and a Cradlepoint personal hotspot (the PHS300 battery powered unit).

If you're looking to take wireless data on the road with you or there is simply no other broadband option at your home, a wireless data card could be for you. The only caveat is data cards only work where there is cellular signal. Luckily in most of the US there is at least one company who has decent cellular signal everywhere humans exist in all but the most rural of rural areas.

Our communications website has all 5 major carriers' offerings in one place to make comparing easy. Check it out online - wireless data cards. The carriers represented include Alltel, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon.

I generally recommend starting with Sprint's service as the benchmark. Sprint wireless data cards do not have limits on how the service can be used and generally perform better than the competing products in most markets. Sprint has long been the road warrior - and tech enthusiasts choice - because they do not have the 5GB transfer limit that Verizon does.

If you're in an area where Alltel is prevalent, an Alltel wireless data card is a good first start since Alltel and Sprint have reciprocal roaming agreements. So in populated areas (major metros) you can roam in Sprint and at home you'll be on native Alltel. I personally live in Alltel territory and the good news is my Spring card works in the reverse also - it lets me roam on Alltel.

AT&T is a good choice... sometimes. The wireless data cards by AT&T are limited by what AT&T's network can deliver. Good news in that statement is AT&T can provide ubiquitous - if but slow - coverage across their entire network. Much of AT&T's network performs at GPRS speeds (not all that much better than dial-up). Major markets have been upgraded to UMTS and as the new 3G iPhone approaches other markets should be seeing their upgrades coming online soon.

The last choice for power users - and anyone with sense - tends to be a Verizon Wireless data card. Verizon is a bit protectionist. (Now isn't that an understatement.) While their cards often perform well, their limits are widely reported. The most important one is the 5GB transfer limit on their service. For all but the lightest users this can be a concern.

Regardless of your choice, a wireless data card comes in handy for anyone who needs to take their internet service with them. And likewise it comes in handy for people where the wired infrastructure fails us (or is outrageously expensive). The last time I was in Las Vegas for a trade show I saw many exhibitors using wireless cards to avoid paying the convention center's "internet tax" - in most cases a $600 per day charge for a mediocre internet connection in their booth.

So... get wireless and go forth and surf!