3 Easy Ways to Get Mobile Internet Access - Page 2

By Ronald Pacchiano
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Option 2: Tether to your Smartphone

Tethering lets you link your cell phone to your PC via either USB or Bluetooth dial-up networking (DUN); once connected, your PC can use the phone as a cellular modem, providing it with online access via your Smartphone’s existing data plan. A wide assortment of smart phones from numerous communication vendors support cellular tethering. Check with your carrier to see if your phone is compatible, or if you’ll need to upgrade.

Tethering is free with some smartphones, such as Sprint’s HTC EVO 4G. While others carriers, like Verizon Wireless, charge an additional $20 a month for a 2GB plan and $30 a month for a 5GB plan; this is over the cost of your phone’s existing $29.99 required data plan. The aforementioned EVO has no data cap when used in this manner.

Tethering is an attractive option because you already own the hardware and add and remove the capability from your cellular phone plan as needed. If you need mobile Internet access one month, and don’t need it again for the next six, you don’t have to pay for it. The downside is that this method shares the same limitation as the USB adapter and PC/Express card and only provides Internet access for the notebook it's connected to. 

Option 3: Wireless Mobile HotSpots

If you would like to do more than just get your laptop online, then this last option is what you want. Dedicated mobile wireless hotspots are perfect for creating an instant, secure Wi-Fi network that numerous Wi-Fi enabled devices can easily access and share simultaneously. These hotspots are about the size of a 3.5 floppy disk and have a battery life of about 4 hours. Connecting your notebook to one of these hotspots is very easy. All you need do is power up the hotspot and search for it. Once found, enter the provided pass code to complete the connection.

You have a few different hotspots available. Verizon Wireless offers the MiFi 2200 Intelligent Mobile Hotspot which fully supports Verizon’s 3G network. This unit is free with a two-year contract, $70 with a one-year contract and $269.99 if you pay month-to-month. Verizon’s Mobile Broadband plan gives you 5GB per month for $59.99.

Next we have the Sprint Overdrive 3G/4G Mobile Hotspot, which is very similar in design and operation to Verizon’s MiFi, except it's capable of both 3G and 4G speeds. It is also equipped with a microSD card slot, which can provide up to 16GB of shared network storage. The Sprint Overdrive costs $99 after a $50 mail-in rebate, and requires a two-year service contract. Sprint's 3G/4G Mobile Broadband Connection Plan is $59.99 per month and provides 5GB of data per month on the 3G network and unlimited data on the 4G network.

Finally, I want to mention Virgin Mobiles MiFi 2200 mobile hotspot. This unit is just about identical to the Verizon offering and costs $149.99, but it provides you with unlimited mobile data on a 3G network for only $40 per month, with no contract or activation fees. And in case you weren’t aware of it, Virgin Mobile devices operate on the Sprint 3G network. 

In addition to the dedicated mobile hotspots listed here, a number of new cell phones offer the capability to emulate a Wi-Fi hotspot. The Motorola Droid X and the above-mentioned Sprint HTC EVO 4G both offer this feature, for about $30 more per month.

Anytime, anywhere online access can be very appealing. When considering a mobile broadband solution please remember that wireless data carriers change their plans, service offerings and discounts on a fairly regular basis. What was accurate at the time of this writing might not be available by the time you read this. Be sure to visit the service provider’s site for the latest pricing. With a little leg work, you’ll be able to find a mobile plan that’s right for you.

Ronald V. Pacchiano is a systems integrator and technology specialist with expertise in Windows server management, desktop support and network administration. He is also an accomplished technology journalist and a contributing writer for Small Business Computing.

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This article was originally published on September 10, 2010
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