Using a 3G modem with your laptop

Not long ago I blogged about getting a Sprint Novatel USB EVDO rev A modem for my laptop. I have a Toshiba M4 running Vista (it has 2Gb RAM and it flies).

My first concern was software compatibility with Vista. Before installing anything that came with the modem I went to the Sprint Download site to get the latest drivers. After installing them I popped the USB modem and a few seconds later I was online. This is the bottom line - the EVDO modem has been a godsend. I have saved money on hotel internet access, saved time as I don't have to spend time finding WiFi hotspots and been more productive.

Economics - I attended CTIA in Orlando. The Marriott hotel charged $16 per night for hish-speed internet access in my room, and the WiFi signal was so poor I could only work by using the ethernet cable which meant I had to be sitting in the desk. $16 times 4 nights is $64 bucks - and this for service I would only use for an hor or two and only avaialble when sitting in the desk. With the 3G modem I coud work on the desk, on the terrace overlooking the pool, at the pool, in the bus, at the convention center, at the airtport - you get the idea. If you spend more than two days on the road, a 3G modem is a no-brainer.

Coverage - I had full coverage in Orlando. This week I used it in Portland and it worked great in Tualatin, Oregon. I have yet to find a dead spot. In Phoenix, at a hotel in the middle of the dessert, I did not have EVDO coverage - but I had 1x RTT: not as fast, but it worked. I remember one particular day at Chicago O'hare where I was walking though the terminal trying to find a spot where the WiFi signal was good enough. Looking back it was comical that I was moving my laptop around looking for coverage just like in the old days when people moved the TV bunny-ear antennas. Now at the airport, I fire up my laptop, and in two seconds I am online. I don't care if th airport has free WiFi, T-Mobile HottSpot, AT&T Hot Spot, Wayport, etc. 

Speed - According to Sprint, download speeds should be between 450 and 800kbps and upload speeds in the range of 300-400kbps. Rev A. really makes a difference in upload as it is roughly 10x what "non Rev A" EVDO offered. At the hotel, I opened my laptop, Outlook was syncing, Windows Live Mail was sycing (I use the desktop client and love it), Microsoft Office Communicator signed-in, I opened two or three browser widows to read the latest about the BlackBerry outage and the speed was great. The experience is almost the same as if I were using WiFi. Sometimes you have to wait a second or two for a page to load and if you have a lot of email to sync it could take a minute or two, especially if you are downloading large attachments, but in general the speed was more than enough for me.

Convenience - This is the future. Remember when WiFi cards were optional? Today there are about 45 laptops in themarket from Dell, HP, Lenovo and others with built-in 3G radios that work with Verizon, Sprint or Cingular. USB and PCMCIA cards are available for all three too. This is the future. I opted for the USB model because I need the PCMCIA slot to use my SMartCard for authentication when I need to VPN to corpnet. If you are buying a laptop, think about one with integrated 3G connectivity. The USB modem is a bit big, but it fits in my pocket or my laptop bag and using the included USB cable makes the size irrelevant. Take a look at this pic of the modem next to my T-Mobile Dash and CIngular 8525:

By the way, while I was down in Oregon I took some good shots - Cannon beach is simply amazing. Take a look on my Flick album