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.