Reader Feedback: Mobile Broadband, Part 1

Back in December, I reported on my experiences activating, using, and then deactivating Sprint's Mobile Broadband service. In my tests, the service itself worked flawlessly. But setting up and canceling the service would have reduced even Muhammad Ali to tears.

In that column I asked readers to share their experiences using the Sprint or another cellular wireless data network. This week and next, I'm excerpting some responses from readers. Their comments provide a glimpse into the problems you might face if you sign up for a cellular wireless network plan. But as you'll see, readers have also had positive experiences.

My comments and explanations are in italics and marked by brackets.

Technology, A-; Customer Service, D+

"The Sprint Mobile Broadband technology is incredible, but only after you find the right hardware and software setup.

"I live in the country and had Direcway [a satellite Internet service, now HughesNet] for 4 years or so. We switched to Sprint's wireless data network and the Sierra Wireless AirCard 595U USB modem. I spent several weeks trying to make this work. I gave Sprint the modem back and purchased a Linksys WRT54G3G-ST wireless router [current online prices: $202 and up] with a PC Card slot for the Novatel Merlin S720 modem [$99 with a two-year contract]. [The Linksys router makes it possible to share a Sprint Mobile Broadband Internet connection among multiple computers.] My family and I share this connection with five home computers. We normally get 1.1 to 1.3 megabits per second. Streaming video, music, and so forth is very fast. It's always on, and we love it.

"The bad news: Sprint has terrible, ill-equipped customer service. Even the local Sprint store(s) don't understand their product. They seem to be prepared to manage cell phones but not the Mobile Broadband service. Every time I contacted them...I was transferred three to four times before someone could help me. I would wait for 30 minutes or more to talk to someone.

"Overall I would give Sprint customer service a C- or D+, though once I got to the right person, they worked really hard to make right. Sprint's broadband technology would get an A- or B+.

"I hope they get the support figured out. They have a "winning horse" with their Mobile Broadband service.
--Daniel Pilarski, Rockford, Michigan

A Happy Sprint Camper

"I took the leap and got a Sprint broadband card for my laptop. I have been a happy camper ever since. I didn't have the problems you mentioned in the start-up phase, but I purchased my card from a third-party source who walked me through the fairly simple process over the phone.

"I recently switched my cell phone service from T-Mobile to Sprint because of a better plan and I have to say, Sprint did a really nice job, customer service-wise. A customer service rep even called me to see how things were going several days after I began using Sprint. She was amazingly helpful and polite. Without question, their broadband service is just what I had in mind."
--Ed Cadena, San Diego

Streaming and Surfing

"I am a happy customer of Sprint's voice and broadband services. I have one Sprint mobile broadband card, a Merlin S620. When I'm at home, I just pop the card into our 3G Phoebus router so my wife and kids can connect to the Sprint broadband network. When I go to work, I pop the card out and use it on my laptop to stream XM Satellite Radio's online service over the Sprint network. I also surf the Web for 90 minutes each way on my commuter train ride. Sprint has by far the most robust data network in North America."
--Harry Gazon, Woodbridge, Virginia

From AT&T to Verizon

"About a year and a half ago, I decided to try the AT&T wireless broadband service. I bought a modem card and service through AT&T's 800 number. While it, and any other cellular wireless data services, is almost useless in the hinterlands of Pennsylvania (where I live), I travel a lot and was scheduled to be in D.C. and NYC for several weeks--the perfect time for a trial. What followed was totally frustrating.

"AT&T had very limited 3G service around Annapolis and parts of the Eastern Shore but it was only horrible EDGE service in NYC. [3G refers to "third generation" networks, which are currently the fastest cellular data networks. EDGE is a slower data network technology.] Additionally, the modem card kept crashing my computer. It would often work for all of 2 minutes--if that.

"AT&T had a 30-day trial period, like Sprint. Though they replaced my card once, I still had problems. Finally, I told AT&T I hated the service; I wanted to cancel and return the card. Even though it was beyond the 30 days, they could see I'd had problems and cancelled the contract.

"After that, I bought a Verizon wireless broadband card. In the past year and a half, it and the service have worked flawlessly. The downside was initially paying $80 a month for the service. However, since some hotels charge $10 or more a day for Wi-Fi, the card nearly pays for itself when I'm away a week a month. Verizon has since reduced the fee (to $60 a month) and I was even able to upgrade to a better, next-gen wireless broadband modem."
--Nemo Niemann, Elliottsburg, Pennsylvania

For More Information

Future Column Topic: Your Input, Please

I'm planning one or more columns that will provide tips on earning, redeeming, maximizing, and managing frequent flier miles. What are your strategies? Which airline or credit card program is the best, in your experience, and why? Send me your mileage tips.

To get you started, I've posted a few tips of my own on my blog, Traveler 2.0.

Mobile Computing News, Reviews, & Tips

A Projector That Fits Into a Cell Phone: 3M recently demonstrated a prototype of a projector so small, it can fit inside a cell phone or digital camera. The projector uses an LED as its light source and can project a VGA resolution (640 by 480 pixels) image through a tiny lens. 3M is working with companies that say they're interested in embedding the projector in their devices. The first devices should be out early this year.

New Mobile Internet Devices From Lenovo, Toshiba: Lenovo recently unveiled a mobile Internet device that runs a version of Linux, and has a 4.8-inch touch screen and an onboard camera. Meanwhile, Toshiba showed off a small handheld touch-screen PC running Windows Vista. Both work with WiMax, the long-gestating, would-be successor to Wi-Fi. Details on these products were still sketchy as of this writing. As jazzy as these devices are, PC World Editor-in-Chief Harry McCracken wonders if there's truly a need for them.

First Penryn-Based Notebooks Coming Soon: Intel unveiled its first Penryn laptop processors, which are essentially fourth-generation Centrino chips. The new processors are said to be energy efficient, with larger cache sizes and the potential to greatly boost some application tasks, such as video editing. Notebook manufacturers, including Fujitsu, are expected to begin releasing new mobile Penryn-based laptops by the time you read this.

Suggestion Box

Is there a particularly cool mobile computing product or service I've missed? Got a spare story idea in your back pocket? Tell me about it. However, I regret that I'm unable to respond to tech-support questions, due to the volume of e-mail I receive.

Contributing Editor James A. Martin offers tools, tips, and product recommendations to help you make the most of computing on the go. Martin is also author of the Traveler 2.0 blog. Sign up to have the Mobile Computing Newsletter e-mailed to you each week.
Shop Tech Products at Amazon