Laptops of Luxury
Picking a Carrier
You're not required to have a voice plan with your mobile broadband carrier, but piggybacking is more convenient and usually cheaper. And for the moment, who will prevail in the race to provide the best data service is still a toss-up.
"It's impossible to say which carrier will have the best coverage at any given time," says Redman. "One week Verizon might be better, the next week it's Sprint. Or AT&T might be better, depending on where you're at."
Currently all three carriers offer about the same level of performance. Sprint and Verizon's CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) 1x EvDO (Evolution-Data Optimized) networks are more widespread than AT&T's UMTS/HSDPA (Universal Mobile Telecommunications Systems/High-Speed Downlink Packet Access) service, which has been slow to roll out.
Carriers will soon scrimmage over upload speeds, which is good news for mobile professionals who have to e-mail large files. By year's end AT&T is expected to upgrade its service with HSUPA (High-Speed Uplink Packet Access), which introduces the first symmetrical downlink/uplink speeds. In the meantime, the EvDO Revision A service to which Sprint and Verizon are upgrading bumps up download speeds to 1.4 mbps and upload speeds to 500 kbps.
When weighing your options, don't assume that data coverage will be identical to your voice plan's. Just because your cell phone receives a signal doesn't mean your laptop will. For example, Sprint's data service coverage is limited to 70 percent of its voice areas. Also, ask your carrier if unlimited data means just that, or if in fact data is being metered and might result in extra charges if it exceeds a certain limit.
International mobile broadband is likely to be difficult to manage unless you choose AT&T as your provider. Redman recommends instead that you rely on the estimated half a million Wi-Fi hotspots worldwide or that you use a service such as iPass, which patches together mobile broadband coverage from the major carriers for you.
Some cell phones, such as those in Sprint's Power Vision series, can serve as your laptop's mobile broadband modem via a USB cable or Bluetooth, sparing you the cost of an extra card. This approach might make sense if you don't need to use wireless broadband often.
Coworkers who travel together can save their company some dough by taking out a single broadband subscription and then setting up their own hotspot with a cellular router such as Linksys's Wireless-G Router. You just insert the broadband card into the router instead of into your laptop, and a small group of users will be able to connect to the router via Wi-Fi.
Regardless of which carrier you choose, you shouldn't expect to experience nonstop mobile wireless connectivity anytime soon, according to Redman. "One technology can't win; it can't be everywhere at once. Even ten years from now, we won't have one big wireless network that covers us everywhere we go. It will have to be mix-and-match coverage of wired and wireless."
Linksys by Cisco WIRELESS G BROADBAND ROUTER WITH SPEEDBOOSTER (Linksys-WRT54GS)
Belkin SleeveTop Notebook Case, Orange
Samsonite iMobile 360
Interlink Electronics ExpressCard Media Remote for Bluetooth
Logitech VX Revolution Cordless Laser Mouse
Targus Rechargeable Bluetooth Laser Mouse
Creative Live! Cam Optia AF Webcam
Ubixon UBHS-NC1-3D Lubix Bluetooth Stereo Headset
Kensington Wall/Auto/Air Notebook Power Adapter with USB Power Port