Broadband to Go

Living With 3G

In 2004, Verizon Wireless began testing its EvDO service under the BroadbandAccess moniker (for our first look, see "Cellular Nets Reach DSL Speed"), and in late 2005 it rolled the service out nationally. Sprint's EvDO offering, called Mobile Broadband, reaches various cities across the country, but coverage remains spotty. Both providers plan to expand the network over the next few years.

Each company charges its wireless-voice customers $60 per month for unlimited access to these services ($80 for data-only customers). But a provider's definition of "unlimited" may not match yours: Both Sprint and Verizon impose restrictions that we'll discuss later on.

Verizon VZAccess PC Card for 3G.
Verizon VZAccess PC Card for 3G.
So what is 3G service like in the real world? To find out, we shipped a Verizon Wireless VZAccess PC Card for laptops to testers in six metropolitan areas where BroadbandAccess coverage is available: Atlanta; Boston; Portland, Oregon; St. Louis; San Francisco; and Washington, D.C. We also circulated among the testers a Lenovo ThinkPad Z60, one of the few laptop models carrying an internal version of the VZAccess card, to see if the built-in adapter worked better than a PC Card.

Each tester used BroadbandAccess for a series of tasks ranging from performing simple ping tests and viewing identical Web pages to watching streaming video and playing Internet radio. Each tester conducted the tests at various locations: at home; inside a large hotel conference center; in a moving vehicle; outdoors; in a café with Wi-Fi service; and at the periphery of the service area (to get a map of coverage near you, fill out Verizon's form).

Bear in mind that, due to the vagaries of location and network congestion, our results are not repeatable and should be considered as anecdotal evidence only. Your mileage may vary--wildly, in fact--depending on any number of factors, a few of which are outlined below.

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