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Wireless Data Plans Reviewed 105

prostoalex writes "The New York Times Technology section runs a review of available wireless data plans that provide a PCMCIA card for wireless Internet connections. Cingular BroadbandConnect seems to have won the comparison as far as quality, but the service is only available in 16 major metropolitan areas. Sprint Mobile Broadband has wider coverage for $80 a month. Verizon Wireless sells BroadbandAccess for $80 a month or $60 if you decide to commit to a 2-year contract, and this one has the widest coverage of 181 metropolitan areas."
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Wireless Data Plans Reviewed

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  • Their reps don't know a damn thing about how it works, or how to sell it, so getting signed up for it could be a challenge.
    • My rep seemed to know a bit about it, but I was definitely more a tech-head than he was. Anyway, here in Phoenix, I get about 45-50KB/s on downstream transfers. Latency is notably less so than EDGE on Cingular (my prior data service.) According to the article, it's against the terms of service to stream/download/upload music, movies, or games, and it's also a violation to use VoiP services, such as Skype. That said, I have the Skype client running on my PDA phone and have successfully used it to make pho
      • I also stream Sirius over EVDO all the time, with no problem.

        All the unlimited plans I've ever seen are soft-capped at 1OO MB, 250MB, or half a gig. Streaming music for any length of time is going to chew through it pretty quick.

        I know more than a few people who've had data bills in the thousands. The carriers seem to be pretty reasonable about waiving them for first-timer "OMG I had no idea" types, but I know several people with large monthly data bills.

        For high users its far far far far far far .... cheap
        • I've had 5 bills in a row now with two devices, both with in excess of 450MB per device. The plan clearly states "Unlimited." I've seen no evidence of SoftCaps that you suggest.
          • I had Verizon unlimited service for about 10 months, using it as my primary internet access. Then I received a letter from them saying that I was using too much bandwidth and canceling my service at the end of the month. This was without any warning whatsoever. I'd have called them up and complained but I WAS violating the fine print on the contract that forbids using the service for all sorts of things including being the primary internet access, playing online games, etc., not to mention banning VOI
        • FYI, I have a Sirius receiver, and use it in my car. At home, I stream it on my computer, and when I'm not in the car, like at the gym, I stream it over my cell phone. Far better than having those time-delayed devices, since it's always live. Only unfortunate part is most of the entertainment channels are restricted from web access...
    • I signed up for Verizon's EVDO service last September with no problems at all. I wanted the Kyocera card, which they had to ship me. The service worked wonderfully in town, but I discovered that at home I only have a [marginal] 1x signal, with no EVDO coverage. I'd hoped to use it for primary Internet connectivity, but regretfully returned it all. To those who expect to be able to run warez/epz servers for $19.99 a month the $60/80 for VZW's EVDO service are outrageous, but for what does I find it to be
  • Hmmm (Score:3, Funny)

    by AoT ( 107216 ) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @06:41PM (#15361587) Homepage Journal
    I assume they give away the information on your wireless activities as well?

    Sign me up.
    • > I assume they give away the information on your wireless activities as well?

      NSA doesn't need your wireless phone company's co-operation for SIGINT.

    • Since, as noted in the earlier thread, the NSA appears to be just tapping the internet backbones directly, it doesn't really matter if your "last mile" is wired, cellular, or some bizarre system using carrier pigeons.
      • it doesn't really matter if your "last mile" is wired, cellular, or some bizarre system using carrier pigeons

        Would you kindly please stop referring to RFC1149 [] as a "bizarre system"? The NO CARRIER jokes are bad enough, without this kind of FUD. Thank you.

  • How can we offer free WiFi to so many people? Volume.
  • It doesn't compare which has the better speed. I use Sprint now and I get 400Kbs.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    So this is completely useless to me. That being said, why I am posting this? I am not even sure why I am here. Anyway, I'll see you guys later. Maybe we could catch a movie or something...
  • I was talking to my Sprint rep about these...

    She said that by the end of the year, downstream speeds should be 2Mbit.
    She also mentioned a couple of neat devices... essentially you plug the PCMCIA card into this device, which allows other network connectivity. One acted as a WAP, the other simply had an ethernet port.
    The upstream speeds aren't going to replace standard network connections, but it makes for an interesting disaster recovery option.

    Redundant internet connections aren't much good when all t
  • Yes, but... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Locke2005 ( 849178 ) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @06:54PM (#15361654)
    Can I run VoIP over this wireless connection, thus screwing these same companies out of any cellular revenue?
  • Breaking The Terms (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Linux Ate My Dog! ( 224079 ) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @06:54PM (#15361655) Homepage Journal
    From the article:
    Another option is use-based plans starting at $20 a month with a cap of five megabytes of data and additional charges for transfers above that. In evaluating the Cingular service, I wanted to test how well the connection would hold while mobile; I started the service on a laptop, and using Windows Media Player tuned to a live radio broadcast. I then fastened the laptop to the passenger seat of my car and drove around Austin, Tex., for just under an hour.
    From Cingular's TOS for their plans Laptop Connect Unlimited, 80 bucks a month):
    Prohibited uses include, but are not limited to, using Services: (i) with server devices or with host computer applications, including, without limitation, Web camera posts or broadcasts, continuous jpeg file transfers, automatic data feeds, telemetry applications, automated functions or any other machine-to-machine applications, (ii) as substitute or backup for private lines or dedicated data connections, (iii) for Voice over IP or (iv) in conjunction with WWAN or other applications or devices which aggregate usage from multiple sources prior to transmission. Unlimited plans cannot be used for uploading, downloading or streaming of video content (e.g. movies, TV), music or games. Furthermore, unlimited plans (except for DataConnect and Blackberry Tethered) cannot be used for any applications that tether the device (through use of, including without limitation, connection kits, other phone/PDA-to-computer accessories, Bluetooth® or any other wireless technology) to laptops, PCs, or other equipment for any purpose.
    Bolding is mine, but Cingular bolds this whole quote in their document. Meanwhile, I use T-Mobile's dirt cheap 30-bucks-a-month, around 40Kbps 'antiquated' GPRS system to Bluetooth my subnotebook at work to keep IMing, reading mail, downloading simple pages. These data prices seem outrageous to me for services I am formally not supposed to use any more intensively than I am doing with GPRS right now. If I am getting broadband I want to stream my own music down already. Instead I am just supposed to download my spam faster?
    • From Cingular's TOS for their plans Laptop Connect Unlimited
      ...Furthermore, unlimited plans ... cannot be used for any applications that tether the device ... to laptops ... for any purpose.
      Uh. WTF?
    • If I go for an $80 a month plan that doesn't let me use Skype, YouTube, or BitTorrent they might let me get rid of my landline ($21/mo) and just use their dsl. LINK []

      And my favorite story. Before SBC bought them out Pacific Bell was actually laying fiberoptic cable in my neighborhood (downtown San Jose, CA) so we could have *real* broadband. After SBC bought them the first thing they did was cancel the project and dig the fiber out so no one could use it.

      • When I moved across town, SBC told me in advance it would be no problem to move my DSL; they then proceeded to cut off my service at the old address two weeks earlier than we had agreed, when I called them, they said that if they restored it, they wouldn't be able to cut-over on the day I wanted it activated. They also told me that I'd have to install their new co-branded Yahoo! software when I got set up at the new location. I grumbled, and said "okay, fine" and suffered with dialup for a while. When I mo
    • IHNMTS except it would be really nice if TMO's GPRS plan was just fast enough to do 24k streams.

      Incidentally streaming is a feature in PTunes, the major Palm MP3 player, and yet streaming only works on faster networks like CNG's (or Sprint Vision) -- where it's forbidden.

      Yeah, slow as it is, I won't want to migrate to a faster service if I can't use it for faster content.

      Matter of fact... This sort of policy keeps the US in the wireless dark ages compared to S.E.A. or probably much of Europe too. Wireless T
      • I REALLY need to start reading those ToS agreements...I've been using Orb to stream music to my phone from my computer since I bought my Cingular 8125. However, I can't believe that they are serious about actually enforcing those because, I called customer service asking what the rated speed of the GPRS/EDGE network is because, I was trying to stream music, and recieved my answer without any kind of warning about the ToS at all...I all but told them that I was breaking their rules and nothing happened! Ma
    • Bolding is mine, but Cingular bolds this whole quote in their document. Meanwhile, I use T-Mobile's dirt cheap 30-bucks-a-month, around 40Kbps 'antiquated' GPRS system to Bluetooth my subnotebook at work to keep IMing, reading mail, downloading simple pages.

      Sprint's lower-speed data service is an additional $15 per month (on top of whatever voice plan you use) for unlimited use at about 100-150 kbps both ways. For voice and data, I'm paying about $40 per month. I can browse websites and ssh into my ma

    • Upgrade to an EDGE phone on T-Mobile, and get 3x your current download speed.

      Sure, 3x of 40 kbps isn't much, but 120 kbps IS a noticeable improvement. Sadly, it doesn't help much with the latency.
  • All these services have the typical CYA in them which forbids doing anything other than browsing web pages. They specifically forbid running anything server-like and also forbid streaming media.

    It's all about protecting the revenue stream.
  • HSDPA vs. EV-DO (Score:3, Informative)

    by Erich ( 151 ) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @06:56PM (#15361668) Homepage Journal
    Singular's card is HSDPA, the 3G packet access for folks upgrading GSM networks. If you're not in an area with HSDPA, you can fall back to EDGE or (probably) GPRS. You'll need a card that supports lots of bands if you expect to roam around the world... but GSM/GPRS/EDGE/HSDPA is what you'll find around Europe. So if the card supports all the frequencies you'd have compatible hardware there.

    Verizon and Sprint use EV-DO cards. EV-DO is pretty widely deployed and growing fast. Make sure you get an EV-DO Revision A compatibile card. DOrA has even faster downlink and much faster uplink capabilities, as well as low-latency support so stuff like VoIP works better. EV-DO will fall back to normal 1x data... which is pretty fast. I get 100-200kbps just about everywhere on my cheapo 1x phone on Verizon. There are EV-DO networks in some Asian countries like Korea. And in my experience Verizon is the best wireless provider here in the USA.

    I have a cheapo Verizon phone and find the normal 1xRTT to be pretty good for web browsing. SSH is a bit high latency but not bad. And it just costs airtime minutes. I wouldn't want to dist-upgrade debian with the link, but it's pretty good for what I need. Several folks in the office have the EV-DO cards and they work great in most cities.

    If you are on a GSM network you also might find out that your phone does EDGE for free. Most phones -- even the cheap ones -- have data features. Find out and you might have a fun solution for an occasional need for wireless connectivity.

    PS. Linux connectivity for the LG VX3200 was a snap... but I can't get it to work in Windows... does anyone have this working? I got a cheapo cable that comes up as a serial device...

  • My experience (Score:5, Informative)

    by charstar ( 64963 ) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @06:58PM (#15361680)
    I've had Verizon's service for about a year and am pretty happy with it. They could do A LOT better though.

    I orginally had a Novatel V620 PCMCIA card connection to my powerbook, but when I got my Mac Book Pro, it became instantly useless. As of a few months ago, there are no ExpressCard/32 adaptors available for any of the service providers.

    The solution I went with was to get a bluetooth cell phone (and voice service ... blah) and use the phone as a modem. Works pretty well, though I wish there was a card for it. Of course the verizon morons at the store don't really know what they are selling, so they also had me buy the stupid USB wire to the phone (that doesn't even charge the battery!) that doesn't because, according to them, you can't share the data connection over bluetooth (but you can!).

    So ya, overall i'm happy with it because it works. I'm surprised that i usually have a latency of under 500ms. I can play World of Warcraft from pretty much anywhere =)
  • Will the cards work with Linux?
    • Verizon's EVDO service definitely works with Linux; we use it as a backhaul in one of our research projects at work. I'm not sure all the details, but I do know it works. The system with the card was a little Soekris board running Debian with a 2.6.14 kernel; I don't believe we installed any VZW software for dialing out.
    • I have it working on my ThinkPad T42P with a Kyocera KPC 650 from Verizon which is running SUSE 10. It uses the usbserial driver and you may need to patch it (ask Google) if you are using a stock kernel. I did have to use Windows to initially setup the card the first time using the Verizon CD ROM. The only difference between Windows and Linux functionality is that I don't get a signal strength meter in Linux. My best speeds are about 1.6 Mb/s down, 127 up (
  • by vinn01 ( 178295 ) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @07:18PM (#15361778)
    My advice: use the service with the strongest signal where you will be using your laptop. That may not be the service with the highest published data rate, or the lowest cost plan. Unfortunately, I have no advice for determining the service with the strongest signal other than testing each service.

    As with a cell phone, the signal strength can be very fickle. If your move you laptop to a different desk, your signal strength could plummet.

    You need a strong signal to make wireless broadband work. The published data rates are useless unless you get a perfect signal. What kills the data transfer rate is retries cause by weak signals. With a weak voice signal you can still go about your business, just with a little frustration. Not so with a weak wireless broadband signal. Your connection will slow to uselessness.

    Most all of the broadband wireless cards can be used with a larger antenna. My next bit of advice is to replace the cute little tiny antenna with something that has a higher gain. I've seen antennas that mount on the laptop monitor, table top, or car roof. Use whatever size antenna that you can manage.

    • I've been using the Verizon service for about 2 years. What is EXTREMELY odd is that the published rates are CONSERVATIVE - I frequently exceed them by 4 times or more (downloading at 300 megaBYTES per second, for example, when the published rate is apparently 400-700 megabits.)

      The biggest issue I've found with quality of connection is network contention with cell phones. If I use the Verizon service at 2 AM, it's virtually indisinguishable from my home cable service. In the middle of the day though, it
      • I've been using Verizon EvDO in and around NYC for about 9 months, and I've found that Verizon has been surprisingly honest about their speed. Everything I've read from Verizon said typical speeds of 400-600kbs with bursts up to 2 Mbs. This is pretty much exactly what I get. I did some downloads yesterday of some decent size files in a strong signal location in downtown Brooklyn and got 1.7 Mbs. Typically, however, I average about 500 kbs.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    "from the carrier-pidgeons dept"

    don't you mean pigeons?
  • by rufusdufus ( 450462 ) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @07:36PM (#15361889)
    The article focuses on pc-cards but doesnt mention bluetooth tethering to a cellphone. Using your cellphone as a wireless modem over bluetooth has some advantages over pc-cards. One big advantage of tethering is that you share one account and one bill with fewer fees. Since you probably already carry your cellphone around (with its built in bluetooth hardware), there is a weight/bulk advantage with tethering because you dont need the extra pccard and antennae. Another secret is that the cellphone operates on its own battery so the laptop battery life is effectively extended. These benefits really stand out when you are using a pocket sized computer like the sony 750p; tethering is the difference between an internet computer in your pocket and a computer in a suitcase.

  • I wonder why so many of the plans are PC only. How difficult is it to write a device driver for other OS COuld be very hard, bus so hard that one forfiets a good part of the market with money?

    I wonder if it is a softwar thing. I remember a few years ago SBC was not supporting Macs. The only thing I could figure is that on a Mac you did not have to install the SBC software, which was basically a PPOE driver and some other stuff that was very close to spyware. SInce the Mac already has a PPOE driver an

    • Do the cards actually work on any machine, but is not just not supported?

      I can't speak for other carriers, but Verizon's tetherable phones show up as a USB Serial device and act just like a dialup modem. Their PC cards show up as a USB hub attached to a USB serial device and, again, act like a dialup modem... so anything that support USB serial devices and dialup modems should be able to connect :)

  • T-mobile (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Not a very interesting, informative, or complete article.

    I've had T-mobile's $19/mo GPRS service for 2.5 years, and while it's about 1/2 the speed of Verizon's card, my experience is that it's quite reliable. Rural Louisiana, Seattle, the sticks of Idaho, Juneau, London, north shore of Iceland... no problem, 4-5 bars, 56k-ish. My Verizon & Sprint card buddies have faster throughput, but lose signal in the middle of metro downtown areas occasionally.

    I'm sticking with Tmobile. Oh, and one note: T-mo is
  • Go T-mobile! (Score:3, Informative)

    by WhiteWolf666 ( 145211 ) <> on Thursday May 18, 2006 @08:19PM (#15362127) Homepage Journal
    What's wrong with T-mobile's EDGE service?

    1. Get a T-mobile phone with bluetooth and EDGE
    2. Get a laptop with bluetooth.
    3. Enjoy unlimited wireless internet access with (the good) ~120 kbps real-world throughput and (the bad) ~800-1200 ms roundtrip latency, for $19.99 a month.

    I know that EV-DO has better latency, but I didn't think that Cingular's HSDSPA or whatever alphabet soup it is was that much better. T-mobile's EDGE service is acceptable over an NX connection, and works while in the car up to about 60 mph.

    For an addition $10.00, you can get the "T-mobile Total Internet" package, which gives you unlimited T-Mobile hotspots, which are all over the place, and significantly faster than any of the 2.5G-3G data services.

    *shrug*---- I've been tempted by Verizon's EV-DO service, but at 4x the cost, with availability of the high-speed component in metropolitan areas only (my northshort Chicago suburb, near O'Hare airport, at the world's largest industrial park, is NOT served by EV-DO) just doesn't seem worth it.

    Much of the world still lives on dialup. I can get used to using 2x dialup (with 2x the latency, har har) while on the road; and the price cannot be beat (I average 30-50 megs of usage per month, and I get the added side benefit of browsing on either my phone or laptop whenever I want).

    Go T-Mobile. I highly recommend it.
  • if work is paying for it, it's easy to go with the best service. but if you are paying out of pocket, t-mobile is a real bargain. for $30/month you get decent edge/gprs service (i average 130kbps/1-2s lat) and unlimited access to their hotspots. and there is no extra charge for tethering. you can tether via usb or bluetooth, tmobile doesn't cripple their bluetooth phones. though it's not the fastest, i like the idea of a company that lets you tether for free, doesn't cripple your phone, and even will give y
  • For $3/month, you can add a "Dial up & Fax" option to your current Cingular phone service plan. This lets you use your cell phone as a plain old fashioned Bluetooth Modem, dialing into one of your ISP's dialup numbers.

    The catches:
    - You have to already have an ISP with dialup numbers.
    - You spend your voice minutes on internet access.
    - It's slow as hell. 9600bps = 1.2KBps. Enough for email and instant messaging, not quite enough to happily browse today's graphics-heavy www.

    I've tested this, s
    • I've been using Verizon's NationalAccess connection regularly for almost two years now. I have to make a usb connection between my phone and laptop, but I only use my voice minutes, and speeds are better than 56k virtually anywhere, and often much faster. Certainly manageable for e-mail and web browsing.
  • While I'm not necessarily against the added mobility that this offers, I do foresee one potential caveat: If a significant number of consumers sign up for these services, it will further strain the already overloaded cellphone network. And, the way these &#($#)* telco's seem to be going these days, it's a safe bet that they'll transfer the added cost on to customers, yet again. You'll have your base price (be it minutes/month, or be it bandwidth/month), and then you'll have an additional cost to ensu
    • If a significant number of consumers sign up for these services, it will further strain the already overloaded cellphone network.

      I am curious... Do you have a source for the current percentage of the cellphone networks usage?

      It's my understanding that most CDMA (not sure about GSM) networks are underutilized. Hence the reason Sprint is doing MVNO's. It's better to earn some (smaller) revenue off unused bandwidth than letting it sit idle eh?

      If your assumption that the cell networks are already overload

    • I have not seen this at T-mobile, and it seems to be gaining new subscribers at a rate of around 10% per year.
  • Anyone know if it's possible with any of the carriers to use more than one card on a single plan--ie, buy three cards, put them in three seperate computers and then use them (independently or at the same time) on a single plan? I'm trying to find a way to push small amounts of data (500k per day) from multiple client sites that don't always have internet or even POTS access. This could be ideal, unless I need a seperate plan for every client site, then it becomes a bit cost prohibitive.
  • I switched to a MVNO that operates using Sprint's network. I get unlimited 1x data for a flat rate of 19 cents a day. No contracts. My whole cell phone bill has gone down to like $10 a month. I still have my old phone number, and keep it as long as I remember to make at least one phone call every 2 months. I have a $10 USB cable for my sweet new camera phone that lets me use this unlimited data function with my laptop wherever I go.
  • Unlimited Broadband laptop plans that are limited and not allowed to be used for broadband content. Come on... Verizon's plan is like selling somone a gun and then saying they can't use bullets with it and they are only allowed to point it at other folks and yell 'bang'.

    An Unlimited data plan should by definition mean 24/7/365 access at the obtainable data rates of the technology. If that is not what they can offer then they should not be allowed to call the plans 'Unlimited'.

    Would they be allowed to sell '
  • In India, there is a company called Reliance that offers 144 Kbps (CDMA) itnernet access at Rs.1500 (~$30) per month. .html [] and tariffs.html []. I've heard that their service is good and works practically all over India.

Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.