The television show South Park once aired an episode where people woke up one morning to find that the Internet had disappeared. No one was able to get online. There was no email, no news feeds, no online shopping and no social networking. People panicked and chaos ensued. It was funny to watch, but the truth is, we couldn't accomplish much of what we do everyday without the Internet.
Think about the mobile devices currently available to us: notebooks, netbooks, iPads and smartphones -- even iPods and gaming systems. Our whole world revolves around our ability to get online. And for many small businesses and their employees, having 24/7, anytime, anywhere Internet access is not a luxury, it's a necessity.
Fortunately, there's a variety of mobile broadband solutions available today. Price points vary considerably from provider to provider, but the diverse offerings make it possible to find a plan that meets both your needs and your small business budget.
The best deals often require a two-year contract, and most mobile broadband accounts max out at 5GB a month. However, plans more suited to your individual needs are available. The trick is to clearly identify your needs, and then shop for the appropriate plan.
So how do you go about identifying your needs? Start by asking yourself a few questions.
- What device or devices do you want to use online? (ex. Notebook only, or notebook and smartphone)
- Are you the only person who will use this connection or will you share it with others?
- Is a wireless connection important to you or is a wired one acceptable?
- Is this connection going to be for regular or occasional use?
By taking the time to answer these questions and others like them, youll gain a better understanding of your actual needs and can then shop more efficiently for a cost effective solution.
Lets say based upon the questions above you realize that youre only going to need this connection a few times per year. In that situation, it might not pay for you to invest in an expensive two-year contract and instead opt for a simple pay-as-you-go plan. Just acknowledging that could save you hundreds of dollars a year.
Lets take a look at the different methods available for getting your hardware online. The costs for each are very similar, with the biggest differentiator being whether you purchase a contract or pay month-to-month. The methods will vary and there are positives and negatives to each approach.
Option 1: USB Adapter, PC Card or Express Card
The first option available is the USB Adapter, PC card or Express Card. These devices don't require power cords, plug directly into your laptop or netbook, and setup is pretty painless. With a two-year contract, the adapters are typically free or come with generous rebates, which all but nullify the hardware cost.
Most vendors also offer a pay-as-you-go program, in which case youll need to shell out for the hardware; prices range from $100 to $250. Data plans range from 100MB to 5GB a month, and typically cost between $15 and $80 per month. The biggest drawback is that you can use this option only to get your PC online you can't share it with any other mobile devices.
For this option, I recommend T-Mobile as a provider. For $39.99 a month, with or without a contract, the webConnect plan grants you access to not only T-Mobile's 3G and EDGE networks, but also its high-speed HSPA+ network.
You also have free, unlimited, nationwide access to T-Mobiles HotSpot network. Best of all, should you exceed the 5GB data cap, unlike other carriers that charge you expensive overage fees, T-Mobile instead simply throttles back the speed of your service until the next billing cycle.