Aircard Meets Cradlepoint: A Marriage Made in Heaven

If you're like a lot of people who rely on an Aircard to get online, you may be wishing it would allow you to connect multiple computers to the web at one time. Using more than one computer with an Aircard has not been possible, not easily anyway, until recently.

That's when the Cradle Point or mobile broadband router came along. If you know someone who has high-speed internet, either through DSL or a cable connection, you may have noticed that they can set up wifi in their house and connect multiple computers or other devices to the internet at once. My brother has this option and he uses a wifi router to allow him and his wife to both surf the net from anywhere in the house at the same time. But this was not an option for people with an aircard until cradlepoints came along.

A Cradlepoint is basically a router designed just for aircards. The device is actually called a 3G mobile broadband router, and Cradlepoint is a copyrighted name of a company that produces these routers, but most people call all 3G routers by this title.

Instead of plugging your aircard into one computer, you plug the aircard into the Cradlepoint, and it creates a wifi signal that allows any wifi enabled computer in the area to connect to the internet through the aircard. Amazing, huh?

I live in a rural area, and I never thought I would have a fast internet connection, let alone a wifi network in my home. Aircards made it possible for folks in the country to get a fast internet connection, and now mobile broadband routers are making wifi a reality for people in rural areas. This is also true for people who travel a lot, live in an RV, or need a back up in case other web connections go down.

Just like regular wireless routers, the 3G version, a Cradlepoint, has security features to protect your computers and information from snoopers and hackers. It's important to use these features if you don't want other people to have access to your network. Most mobile broadband routers use a firewall or double firewalls to provide protection. They also use virtual private network technology (VPN).

There is also at least one benefit of using an aircard and cradlepoint over the use of a traditional wireless router. They are very mobile. You can take these two devices to any place that has cell phone connectivity and a power source (either a battery or electricity) and use them to connect to the web. Like I said before, this is very handy for travelers, and RVers.

There are also versions of this technology like Verizon's MiFi that combine a cradlepoint and an aircard into one device. The Mi-Fi is a pocket device that does the same thing as the two devices combined. However, it only allows a few computers or devices to be networked. Other 3G mobile routers allow 10 or more devices to connect, though I imagine they each would have a slow connection, since they would all have to share the Aircard's 3G signal.

Aircards revolutionized access to the internet for people all over the world. Now, Cradlepoints and other 3G mobile wifi routers are revolutionizing wireless networking for a lot of Aircard users.


An Aircard by Any Other Name is Exactly the Same

Aircard is a term for mobile broadband devices. It was probably first used by Sierra, an aircard manufacturer. But the term is certainly not the only one used. Each company that sells mobile broadband seems to have a different word for these gadgets.

AT&T calls theirs connect cards. This isn't a bad term. It's short and explains what the card is good for.

At my local Alltel store, they advertise them as data cards. That's a bit confusing because some people use that term for cards that store data or software.

I've heard people refer to these devices as 3G cards. That makes sense due to the fact that they may use of 3G (third generation) signal technology. Maybe when 3G is replaced by 4G we'll start calling them 4G cards.

The term broadband card or mobile broadband card is becoming popular, though some would argue that the cards seldom reach "broadband" speeds. They do offer high speeds, especially when compared to dial-up.

Another synonym for aircard is wireless card or 3G wireless. I don't like this one because "wireless card" can also mean a card that connects a computer to a wi-fi system, which is very different than 3G.

You may have heard of other terms for aircards. If so, let me know in the comments.


How Can RVers Connect to the Internet: an Article by Jaimie Hall Bruzenak

Introduction: I was surfing the internet on my aircard this weekend from my parents RV. We were in a campground that didn't offer wifi, so using the aircard from the RV was the best option. I started thinking about how handy aircards must be for people in the RV lifestyle.

I started searching a little on the web and found many articles about using aircards while on the road in a camper or RV, but this one by Ms. Bruzenak stood out and luckily I was allowed to reprint it. So, here it goes. This is the only article on Aircard Information that I haven't written, but it has a lot of good info. Check it out. Also, recently, I've helped my brother put together his own blog. It's about breathalyzers and interlock systems. So, check it out if you have time.

Convenience and Effectiveness
By Jaimie Hall Bruzenak
Most RVers use the Internet to stay in touch with family and friends. Many use it for banking and bill paying. Finding campgrounds, attractions, places to work or volunteer, are all easier if you have a computer and an Internet connection. The methods RVers use to connect are: cell phone modem or Aircard, satellite Internet, RV park Wi-Fi, other Wi-Fi signals, public computers, PocketMail (for e-mail only.) and a dial-up modem connection at an RV park.
Three factors will help you determine which form of Internet access is best for you.
  • How often you want/need to connect
  • Your budget
  • Where you travel
How often do you connect?
For RVers who need a dependable, regular (daily) connection no matter where they travel for business purposes, satellite Internet is a good choice. It works in remote areas when nothing else does. Trees can obstruct the signal, though.
RVers who stay along the Interstates and metropolitan areas are more likely to find a good signal from an Aircard, also known as a broadband card. Each cell phone company, though, has areas where their service does not work, especially in more remote areas. Overall, Aircards are getting better, faster and with a signal available in more places.
If you only check e-mail occasionally, you might not even want a computer that gets an Internet signal. Checking at public libraries or using PocketMail could work fine.
How much can it cost?
Budget is a factor too. The satellite Internet equipment is a minimum of $1500 for the tripod-mounted dish, $5000+ for a rooftop mount that automatically locates the signal. If you catch a sale and rebate, the Aircard or cellular modem is free. The regular price is as much as $200. The basic monthly service for both Aircard and satellite Internet costs about $60; other plans are more expensive.
If you rely strictly on Wi-Fi, cost can be deceptive. You can often find a free signal by driving around, but how much time and fuel are you spending finding it? Some parks and coffee shops charge for Wi-Fi. If you need a subscription for even 24 hours very frequently, you could end up paying a lot per month for service. If you only check e-mail two or three times a week when you have a signal, then you can avoid paying. Consider all that when making a choice.
Where do you travel?
If you like remote areas, you may have difficulty connecting with anything but a satellite Internet dish. If you are usually in more populated areas, check the coverage for the company you are considering for an Aircard or modem; all have holes in their service, not only in remote areas, but in certain states or areas. My sister lives in the L.A. area, north of Pasadena. At her house I have to go outside for my Verizon cell phone to work or stand by certain windows. It works elsewhere in her area. (We couldn't use the Aircard or satellite Internet there either.) If you park in areas with lots of trees frequently, satellite Internet may not work.
What's the solution?
No one method of connecting to the Internet works all the time. I need to check e-mail and get on the Web nearly every day. We were in Big Bend for several months in 2005-06 and had no cell phone service. My Aircard did not work either. We first got a landline, which got clogged up with users as soon as the kids were home from school. We ended up purchasing a satellite Internet dish, which worked well.
The satellite Internet works great - except when it doesn't. In 2007 we traveled with satellite Internet. Even so, we used Wi-Fi in RV parks where we stayed if we were there for only one night rather then set up the dish. We would call ahead to find out. In Maine, we had no signal because of trees; the promised Wi-Fi in the park wasn't operational yet. We used a landline at the family cottage and some days drove about 15 miles to a coffee shop/bookstore for free Wi-Fi. A few times on our travels, I went into the RV park office and used their dial-up or high-speed modems.
Several RVers we know have recently given up their satellite Internet dishes in favor of an Aircard. In fact, we too have switched to a newer Verizon Aircard because of problems with speed with Hughes. We know the Aircard won't work 100 percent of the time but are prepared to look for other ways to connect.
What we like about the Aircard is that it is tiny and easily finds the signal. We can both use the same Aircard by using a router. With satellite Internet, even though George was quite fast at setting it up, it still took 10-15 minutes, was more involved, and we needed a place to store the dish and tripod. The signal for satellite Internet is more difficult to find than for satellite TV because you have three parameters to match instead of two. The Motostat system that is mounted on your RV roof and finds the signal automatically works well but is much more expensive and you can be limited in where you park so trees don't interfere. With the tripod mount, you can move the dish around. With Motostat, you need to move your RV if you don't get a signal.
To come up with the solution that works best for you, weigh all the factors. Choosing either an Aircard or satellite Internet does involve a two-year commitment when you sign up so think it through before committing. And, be prepared to use an alternative method when your main choice doesn't work.
Jaimie Hall Bruzenak is an RV Lifestyle Expert. She has been RVing since 1992. She and her late husband weren't retired so RVed on a budget and worked on the road. She is the author of Support Your RV Lifestyle! An Insider's Guide to Working on the Road and other RV books. See http://www.RVLifestyleExperts.com for more information about the RV lifestyle.
©2008. Permission to reprint as long as the full article and bio is included.
Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Jaimie_Hall_Bruzenak


Update: Netbook with Built in Aircard Gets Cheaper

In a previous post, I wrote about an Acer Aspire netbook that sells for $100 at Radio Shack. It comes with a built in AT&T aircard. Well, that deal has gotten better. Radio Shack is now selling the Acer Aspire for $79.

It seems too good to be true, and there is a catch. To get the netbook for that low price, you have to sign up for a monthly contract with AT&T. This contract lasts for two years and costs about $60 per month.

For some people who just want a cheap netbook, this is not a good deal. However, if you are in the market for a netbook and want an aircard too, this may be the deal for you. Basically, you will be paying the same price for the monthly data contract as anybody else with an AT&T aircard, and you get a cheap netbook from Acer as an added bonus.

I didn't go this route because I don't want a built in aircard. I need to be able to disconnect my aircard and use it with my laptop or my desktop. But, if you want a very small and portable computer that can connect to the internet at high speeds from anywhere with 3G cell service, you might want to check out Radio Shack's offer.

Aircard Info Privacy Policy

At AirCard Info, we recognize that privacy of your personal information is important. Here is information on what types of personal information we receive and collect when you use and visit AirCardInfo.blogspot.com, and how we safeguard your information. We never sell your personal information to third parties.

Log Files
As with most other websites, we use Google Analytics to collect and use the data contained in log files. The information in the log files include your IP (internet protocol) address, your ISP (internet service provider, such as AOL or Shaw Cable), the browser you used to visit our site (such as Internet Explorer or Firefox), the time you visited our site and which pages you visited throughout our site.

We also use third party advertisements on AirCard Info to support our site. Some of these advertisers may use technology such as cookies and web beacons when they advertise on our site, which will also send these advertisers (such as Google through the Google AdSense program) information including your IP address, your ISP , the browser you used to visit our site, and in some cases, whether you have Flash installed. This is generally used for geotargeting purposes (showing Missouri real estate ads to someone in Missouri, for example) or showing certain ads based on specific sites visited (such as showing aircard ads to someone who frequents aircard or wireless internet sites).


My AirCard Works With My Mac

Well, I switched to Mac and my aircard still works. My wife was concerned that the iMac I bought would not work with our aircard or any of the other peripherals. But it works just fine.

I installed the software from the CD that came with my air card on the iMac, plugged the aircard into the USB port that Apple puts on each side of their keyboards, and I was on the internet at high speed just like on the PC. Actually, the icons and pop-windows on my air card software look much cooler on the Mac. I thought all that stuff would look the same on either OS.

If you're thinking about switching to Apple, I say do it. Your aircard will probably work just fine. Macs are popular now. That means the wireless broadband providers like AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, etc. have to make their aircards compatible with mac computers.

Actually my iMac is more compatible with my video camera and printer than my PC is. But that's just my opinion. Actually, I think it's a matter of personality. My wife likes her PC better and doesn't want to switch. That's fine. She gets along with her windows computer and I get along with my mac.

Well, it's good to be back at Aircard Information. I haven't been writing here recently. I've have, however, written an article about aircards at eHow, and one about my switch to Apple. Check those out if you are so inclined.


How Does an Aircard Work?

People keep asking me how my aircard works. When I'm sitting in a cafe or in the park surfing the net with my laptop and aircard, people will often ask, "What is that?" I tell them it's a wireless aircard, and they usually say, "Well, how does that air card work?"

Now, I could launch into a long explanation about how the aircard communicates with cell phone towers using a 3G or EVDO signal, but I think what they mean is how do you get one of those and get it to work so I can sit in the park and surf the web too.

Here's the answer.
  • Find out which cell phone provider has the best 3G signal in your area. Unless you live way out in the country, they probably all have very good signals. It may be easiest to use your current wireless provider.
  • Then go to the provider and tell them you want an aircard and a service plan. They will probably give you the aircard and charge you 20 or 30 bucks to set it up. Then, for about $60 a month you can use the aircard as a cell phone for your computer.
What do you mean a cell phone for my computer? That's how an aircard works. It lets your laptop or desktop connect to the internet through cell phone towers. The same way that you pick up your phone and call someone, your computer can use the aircard to call an internet server.

How Much Does an Aircard Cost?

Aircards are free! Well, not exactly but sort of. Most companies who provide wireless broadband through aircards do give away free aircards at no cost. However, there are costs that follow that initial free giveaway.

In my case, I was given a free aircard from Alltel, but I paid $25 to have it set up and configured. I also signed a two year contract for a service plan that costs $60 per month. My wireless card was free because it is subsidized by the cost of the data service plan.

So how much does an aircard cost? Here's how it usually breaks down:
  • Aircard .................................. Free
  • Set up fee .............................. $20 - $30
  • Monthly service plan ........... About $60
These are just estimations. If you want an aircard with built in memory or extra USB connections or any other bells and whistles you may end up paying more. Also, some providers charge more if you download more than a set amount of megabytes per month. I like Alltel because have no limit on data downloads or uploads. However, they are merging with Verizon and these plans may soon be a thing of the past.

Also, I've heard of a wireless company called Cricket that offers wireless broadband through an aircard for $40 a month, on a month by month basis, without a long term contract. Cricket aircards may not be able to gain access in many places because they are smaller than most other providers and seem to be targeting major urban and suburban areas.

My advice is to shop around. Check with the various aircard providers and see what they offer. The prices are usually similiar wherever you get your "free" aircard, so focus on getting the best plan for you.


Top 10 Reasons an Air Card is my Best Purchase this Year

I purchased a USB air card from Alltel. This air card is the best purchase I've made recently. Here are just a few of the reasons why.

10. Alltel has no limit on how much data (bandwidth) I can download and upload with my air card. Some companies charge more per megabyte after you excede a set limit. With Alltel, I get unlimited data transfer for $60 per month.

9. There was only a small $25 installation fee. That's compared to the $700 it would have cost me to set up satellite internet.

8. Since I bought the air card and got off dial-up, I can watch videos. Now I can see what's so funny about a sneezing panda on You-Tube.

7. I can download a song from itunes in 30 seconds. Before I bought the air card, it took 30 minutes and wasn't worth the trouble.

6. I have internet access anywhere I take my laptop and air card.

5. I can download and upload pictures and large documents.

4. The wireless USB dongle makes my laptop look like it has a tail.

3. My air card gives me something to write about on Aircard Information.

2. I can surf the web while riding down the interstate in a car.

And finally, the number one thing I like best about my air card....

1. I no longer tie up my phone line every time I get online.


How Fast is My Aircard's Internet Access?

No matter what method you use to access the Internet (whether it be dial-up, satellite, aircard, etc.), you may be wondering how fast your computer is connecting to the Internet for uploading and downloading information.

Some products easily display your Internet connection speed. Our aircard software allows us to run statistics, which shows our connection speed. For a more fun way to independently check your speed, you might want to visit Speedtest.net. To run a quick test, just visit the site.

A map of the United States will pop up on your screen, showing several locations of Internet servers. Select the one closest to you and wait for the test to be performed. You'll see graphics resembling a car dashboard, with an "odometer" that moves as your top speed is discovered. The first test checks the speed information is being downloaded, and then the test is repeated for uploading information.

A quick test of my aircard showed we were downloading information at 721 kbps. We repeated the test later and found we were connecting at 921 kbps. This is a massive increase over our dial-up, which usually connected at 28 kpbs.

Uploading speeds were approximately 228 kbps. You'll be concerned about uploading speeds only if you are planning to upload photos, music, or other large packages of data.

We recently learned the Internet was able to connect at 56 kbps as early as 1969, during its earliest inception. The aircard connection allowed us to enter the modern era.

I'm Glad I Chose an Aircard

This week's weather has me happy about my choice of an aircard as my high speed internet option. What does the weather have to do with an aircard? Let me explain.

The other night a snow and ice storm rolled through my area. My in-laws' satellite internet connection went down several times. First, it lost its connection with the satellite way above due to heavy cloud cover. Later, the signal was blocked by heavy snowfall. Finally, the satellite dish was covered with ice and quit working. My father-in-law had to go outside and thaw it out with a blow dryer. Through all of this, the aircard kept working and my internet access was not interrupted.

With an aircard, heavy clouds don't block reception because the signal is coming from a tower that is under the cloud cover. It seems like heavy snow fall could negatively affect my aircard's reception, but it didn't seem to. Finally, with an aircard there is nothing outside of the house to freeze up in bad weather. The aircard is safe and warm inside the house, unless you connect it to a booster and an external antenna to get an even better signal.


Aircard Rental

Why would someone want to rent an aircard instead of buying an aircard?

There are several reasons. Some companies rent aircards. By renting instead of buying, users avoid long term commitments with cellular or wireless companies.

Travelling for business or vacation is another common reason for renting an air card. For example, if I had cable or dsl at home but I needed highspeed internet while travelling in a remote area, I would consider renting an aircard. There's also another reason to rent an aircard that makes a lot of sense to me.

Why should I rent an aircard?

If you're looking for a broadband solution for your home and you live in an area where dsl and cable internet are not available, an aircard might be the best option. But the next question is which aircard is best. I've given my opinion in a previous article. The best air card is the one that has the best coverage where you live or wherever you're going to be using it most.

I've suggested asking around to see if anyone else in your area has experience with one of the companies (Alltel, Sprint, Verizon, etc.) that offer 3G service in your area. Another option would be to take a chance and go with the company that you get your cell phone service through.

But now, thanks to aircard rental companies, you can try out different 3G aircards by renting them. You can rent aircards from the cell phone providers that you might like to use and try them out from home or from your favorite coffee shop. Then, when you figure out which one works best and gives you optimal high speed service, you can go to a dealer for that company and get an aircard. Usually, you can get the card for free with a 2 year service plan.

If you decide a rental aircard is for you, you might want to check with the wireless providers in your area, but there are also several companies that rent aircards on the web. Most charge somewhere between six to fifteen dollars per day. It may also cost to have the aircard you rented delivered and returned by mail.


Wireless PC Aircard vs. Dial-up

I recently switched from a very slow dial-up connection to a much faster wireless aircard. The difference between the aircard and dial-up was like night and day.
  • Dial-up where I live only connected at 24 kb/s. The air card connects at anywhere between 100 kb/s and 2 or 3 mb/s.
  • With the aircard, I no longer have to tie up my phone line to use the internet.
  • With dial-up, large pictures were slow to load and audio and video were impossible. Now, with the aircard I can watch videos and download music.
  • I can take my aircard nearly anywhere I go. I can sit in the park with my laptop and no other connections and surf the web. If I go on vacation or on a business trip, my high-speed internet connection goes with me.
  • I no longer have to look for a coffee shop or hotel that has wifi. If I'm in range of a cell phone tower, I have internet access through my laptop and aircard.
  • When I was using dial-up, I had to be careful about sending email with large attachments because they would take forever to upload. With the aircard, large files like Power Point presentations and large Word files upload almost instantly.
So, you may ask, is there anything I preferred about dial-up over my new aircard? Yes, there is one thing.
  • Dial-up is much cheaper. It only cost me $10.00 per month through Juno (a company I used for over 10 years). The wireless aircard was $25.00 to install, and the service plan costs $60.00 per month through Alltel.


Aircard Antennas and Boosters Extend Range

An aircard antenna or powered aircard booster may be what you need if you live on the fringe of 3G or EVDO coverage. Some people live in areas where their cell phone works, but they can't get high speed internet through their phone or through a wireless aircard. Usually, in these cases the aircard will still work but at dial-up speeds. This is because many of the wireless providers have a smaller coverage area for their broadband (EVDO) service than they do for their regular cell service.

If this is the case, you may be on the fringe, or just outside, the service range. You can find out by looking at the maps provided by most cell phone service providers. In such a case, you might be able to boost the reception of your aircard by connecting it to a larger antenna or by giving it a boost with something called a booster.

An aircard antenna allows your aircard to "see" more signals or a greater range of signals. Powered boosters actually plug into the wall and use electric power to amplify your outgoing signal and reception. Don't ask me how it works but manufacturers of boosters claim to increase an aircards range by up to 50 miles. However, there is one drawback. You may not be able to connect your aircard to an antenna if it does not have an external port or connector of some sort.

If you live in a rural area that is on the fringe of 3G cell service, an aircard antenna or booster may be what you need to finally get online at higher speeds.


Sprint's PCS AirCard 580 is One Option for 3G Computing

Is Sprint's PCS AirCard the best aircard? I think that depends on whether or not the Sprint network has the best coverage in your area. In the rural area where I live, Alltel has the best coverage, so that's why I bought an Alltel wireless aircard. Actually, it was a free aircard. I just had to sign up for a 2 year service agreement.

Anyway, back to Sprint's PCS card. It works like most aircards. It plugs into the card slot on your computer or laptop. Before you get one, make sure you have a card slot. If not, you'll need to go with an express card if you have an express card slot, or a USB aircard. The PCS 580 aircard allows you to connect to the internet at high speeds from anywhere in Sprint's EVDO network. If you are outside of that area, your access will likely drop down to dial-up speed.

If you live in an area where Sprint has great coverage or already use Sprint for your cell service, the PCS Aircard 580 may be great for you, but so would any of Sprint's aircards.


Which Aircard is the Best?

So, which aircard is best? This is sort of a trick question. You can compare and contrast the aircards from all the different companies and look at their cons and benefits, but that probably wouldn't give you the answer.

Alright, I'll get to the point already. In my opinion, the best aircard or broadband card ever made is the one that gets the best reception in the specific place where you'll be when you use it most. You could have the most expensive aircard ever made, with a three foot tall antenna on it, and it wouldn't do you any good if you were in a dead spot or out of range for the cell phone network that services it.

The best way to choose an aircard is probably to ask around and find out which cell phone company has the best service in your area. If you know someone that has an aircard, ask them how well it works in your area.

Once you find out which cell phone service is best, go to that company, whether it be AT&T, Alltel, Verizon, Sprint, or whatever. Talk to the customer support people and see what options they can offer you. Ask about their 3G or EVDO aircards or wireless modems. If you already get good cell service from one of these companies, you can probably use them and may be able to roll your data plan into your cell phone bill.

Also, you may be able to use your cell phone as an aircard by tethering it to your computer. Ask the customer support person about this option. You may need to press them about this alternative method, because they might rather sell you an aircard instead of upgrading your data plan and letting you use your phone as an aircard. Often tethering is cheaper, but each method has its advantages.

So, let's come back to our question. Which aircard is best? The truth is the aircard itself probably isn't as important as having the most powerful network in the area.

Videos from YouTube

I put the video player below on my aircard blog because I thought it had information about aircards, but it's actually a video feed with a lot of other computer and how-to related stuff. Oh well. I think I'll leave it up, though, because I watched a few of the videos and some of them are pretty good and others are also very informational.

If you are looking for information about aircards, what they are, and what they are used for, check out these articles:


3G Aircards make Everywhere a Hot Spot

A laptop with wifi makes computing more mobile and flexible. It lets you be online in restaurants, hotels, airports, or anywhere with a hot spot. However, your internet access is limited to locations that have wifi access. This is no longer the case if you've been introduced to 3G, the third generation of wireless computing.

3G aircards have changed the way people use their notebook computers.

Now, with a broadband aircard, you can use the internet nearly anywhere, even in rural locations, and usually at speeds much faster than dial-up.

To get hooked up, all you need to do is visit your local cell phone store and get an aircard that connects to your laptop through a card slot or usb connection. AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and Alltel have wireless aircards. They will usually give you the card for free if you agree to pay about $60 for a service plan. When I bought my aircard, I also paid a $25 installation fee. AT&T even sells a netbook computer with the aircard built inside.

After buying the aircard, I installed a small piece of software that came with the card on a CD, and presto, I was on the internet through the aircard without having to find a hotspot.

How is this possible?

A new generation, or third generation (3G), of wireless products have entered the market that allow customers to use their wireless cell connections to access the internet at broadband speeds. So instead of looking for a wifi hotspot, with an aircard, you just have to be in range of the nearest cell phone tower for your network.


$99 Laptop with Built-In Wireless Aircard

Can you actually get a notebook computer with a built-in aircard for under $100? Yes and No.

The Acer Aspire One, a mini-notebook computer, is being sold by Radio Shack for $99. It comes with an AT&T wireless modem aircard built in. Here's the catch. You have to sign up for a wireless service plan through AT&T for 2 years. It'll cost you about $60 per month, just like most other data plans.

By buying this computer with its built-in wireless modem (aircard) and paying for the service plan, you can walk out of Radio Shack with a computer that connects to the internet from nearly anywhere in AT&T's network.

However, there are some disadvantages. You will be committed to a two year Laptop Connect account through AT&T, and if you back out, you'll have to pay more for the laptop. Also, the built in aircard is less flexible than the typical aircard that slides into a card slot, express card slot, or usb port. You can only use it with that one computer because it is actually inside the computer.

The $99 laptop in question is an Acer Aspire One. This is a new genre of notebook called a netbook. It's called that because it is primarily designed for remote web surfing. It has a smaller screen than the average laptop and is lighter and more portable. It has 1 GB of Ram and a 160 GB hard drive.

The 3G aircard that is built inside the computer can connect to the internet at high speed, probably between 500kbs and 7mbs like most current aircards and usb wireless modems.

If I were looking for a small, simple laptop to use for surfing the web, email, and light tasks, and I wanted to connect from anywhere, I would be very interested in this offer, and I'd be on the look out for others. I bet if Radio Shack is doing this, other retailers like Best Buy and Circuit City won't be far behind with their own cheap notebooks with built in aircards.

This post has been updated. Radio Shack lowered their price.


Aircards are One Option for Rural Internet Access

Is a wireless aircard the best choice for rural internet access?

If you live in the country you may have few options for internet access. I live in a rural area where there are no cable or dsl internet services. Even the dial-up access is slow due to poor telephone lines. I was connecting at a typical speed of 24kbs. Ouch, that's slow! It made uploading pictures or viewing video nearly impossible. Any website with a lot of graphics loaded so slowly it wasn't worth trying. So what options did I have? What alternatives to dial-up can rural internet users rely on for high speed internet access?

There are basically three alternatives including a wireless aircard. You can choose between satellite, long distance wifi (if it's available,) or an aircard.

  • Satellite Internet Access - This works almost anywhere with a view of the southern sky. It is a stable way to connect to the internet at high speeds in a rural location. However, it is more expensive to install than the other options like a wireless aircard. Installation of the satellite reciever is often nearly $700, but sometimes there are deals you can get or the provider may work the installation cost into your monthly service plan. After paying for installation, it usually costs about $60 per month for the basic plan, which is about the same as what it costs for an aircard service plan from a cell phone carrier.
  • Long Distance Wifi - In some rural areas you can have an antenna put on your house that recieves a signal from a long distance wifi tower. This works sort of like the wifi signal you connect with at your local coffee shop, but in this case, it works over long distances. There is an installation fee. The fee in my area of Missouri for this wireless service is about $300 for installation. A monthly service fee also applies and these vary from company to company.
  • Wireless Aircard (also known as a wireless modem) - An aircard is the method I chose. I bought an aircard, or wireless usb modem, from my local Alltel store. The aircard connects to my laptop computer via a usb connection. It allows my computer to connect with cell phone towers and uses their 3G connection to provide high speed internet. It works anywhere I can get cell service. One advantage of an aircard over long distance wifi or satellite is the fact that I can take it anywhere. With the other options I'm limited to my home. With an aircard you can go almost anywhere. I've even used it while riding down the highway. I no longer have to consider whether or not a hotel has wifi service; if I have my aircard I can connect to the internet at high speed through the nearest Alltel cell phone tower. It only cost $25 dollars to get the aircard installed and Alltel gave me the aircard itself for signing a 2 year service agreement. It costs $60 a month for an unlimited internet data plan. Also, if you buy a Cradlepoint too, an aircard can be used to set up a wifi network in your home or wherever you go.
If you know of any other options for rural users to get high speed internet service or would like to know more about how aircards work, let me know in the comments. As far as I'm concerned, the best option for me is an aircard, so if you live in a rural area and you're looking for a high speed option, check with your local cell phone provider and see if a wireless aircard is for you.