Cell phones used as a mobile ISP
By Cliff Maurand
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.
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.
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 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!