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.