Cellular Internet

Cell phones used as a mobile ISP

By Cliff Maurand

Verizon Wireless...
Verizon appears to have the best coverage area of them all, with roughly 90% of the nation under a single calling area. This provides vast area's where you can go and still be able to log-in to the network. They also have three different types of full interent connection, as well as several other limited styles of connections (palm pilots, blackberry etc). They offer a wireless broad band in a couple of prime locations, with more locations to come in the future. For their regular coverage areas, they have a near broadband connection (1x) that can be utilized with 1x cell phones or air cards. They offer several different connection plans too, from unlimited National Access at $80 per month, to limited minutes or pay by the megabyte. These plans can be shared with "talk time" minutes on the cell phone, or you can purchase a Sierra Air Card (PCMIA) for direct connection. This company also has a listing of WiFi Hotspots as well, which is a different type of connection, but also growing in popularity.

With Verizon, they actually have a couple of different types of Air Cards. The primary one is the Sierra 555 Air Card, which will connect to the internet from coast to coast without actually having a regular phone. This card has a small antenna that plugs into it, and can also accomodate an external antenna that can be run outside. The advantages of this unit, are it's relatively small size, and no batteries as it runs off of the laptop's power source. Just plug it in, and connect. It's pretty simple really. And this unit will burst at speeds up to 144k, which is nearly 3 times faster than a home 56k dial-up connection.

Verizon also has the Prime Air Card, which is faster than the Air Card, and is sold in markets where Verizon has the Wireless Broadband. It will also work on the National Access as well, working much the same way as the air card mentioned above. However, if you are in the limited (but growing) area's of Verizons Wireless Broadband, then this card will connect at speeds that burst to 2 Mbps, with typical download speeds in the 300-500k range. Considering this is cellular technology, those are quite impressive numbers!

The biggest drawback to the Verizon Wireless for internet usage, is the cost. They seem to add a hefty premium to the fee's associated with this connectivity. Their basic unlimited package cost $79.99 per month, which prevents it from being affordable to most users. Perhaps their aim is to keep the bandwith down, and if so, their plan is working! They also offer lesser plans, but equally over priced in both their minutes and their megabyte plans. Both offer insufficient bandwitch for the price. If you can afford it, this is the best system to go with.

T-Mobile Wireless....
T-Mobile also offers an air card, it is the Sierra Air Card 750. While it looks just like the 555 that Verizon uses, the 750 is not as fast. This unit is limted to a speeds up to 56k, which are similar to your home dial-up. This air card is also voice capable with a headset. The primary difference between the T-Mobil and Verizon is the price of the service. Both cards cost in excess of $200, but the T-Mobil unlimited internet service cost only $29.99 per month. Additionally, if you have a cell phone service with T-Mobil, they will reduce the cost of the air card service to an additionall $19.99 coupled with you existing T-Mobil phone bill. So if you're on a budget, and can't afford the "Cadilac" connection from Verizon, this unit is very affordable.

The biggest drawbacks to T-Moble are the 56k connection speeds, and less coverage. While T-Mobil has some very expansive service coast to coast, and wide coverage in major cities, there are significant area's that are not covered. Their cell system sticks very close to the interstate hiways, and has little or no coverage when you get away from the interstate system. So if you're going camping in the boonies, this is not likely to provide you with a connection.

Alltel Wireless...
Alltel also utilizes an Air Card, or a high speed phone. However, their high speed access coverage is limited to the following localities, Akron/Canton, Albuquerque, Charlotte, Cleveland, Greensboro, Little Rock, Phoenix, Raleigh, Tampa, and Tucson. Price wise, this system is about the same as Verizon, but due to the much inferior coverage for high speed connections, this plan get's our lowest rating.

There are other plans out there, but not all Wireless companies offer data services. Some companies, such as SunCom offer a great cell phone plan, with unlimited use anytime for under $50 per month, but they don't have any provision for interent connections. Asked why and their response was that is not the type of use they are after.

WiFi...
Another way to connect that is growing in popularity is the WiFi Hot Spot connections. These are PCMIA card very similar to the air cards, but are used for wireless connections both at home, or where public access to WiFi Hotspot connections are available. While this is still limited in scope, it's also growing in popularity. Some offer free connections, while others may charge by the hour, day or month. It's easy enough to find WiFi Hotspots in places like Starbucks Coffee houses, but in campgrounds the trend is slowly growing. But the good news there is, several companies are targeting campgrounds for this service, and more and more become available each year. It only makes sense, it provides visitors with a fast connection they want, and generally the campground get's a percentage of the charges generated from the use of the system. It's a win-win situation for everyone.

WiFi cards are generally much less expensive than Air Cards, and not propriatary to any particular company. Most of them offer 802.11 or 2.4g connections (latter will generally handle both speeds), and they can be used with a home wireless system, or used at a hot spot. Even Verizon offers some WiFi locations in select markets. Linkspot(.com) is one of the companies that set these up at campgrounds, and they carry a list on their website of various campgrounds currently using their system.

It has taken the cell phone companies many years to make it all affordable for day to day use, so it'll take a little longer for it to become internet friendly. However, it's well on it's way there right now!












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