Notebook makers have been in a rush to offer integrated 3G in various notebooks over the past couple of years. Models offered in the U.S. can be CDMA (EV-DO) from Sprint or Verizon or HSDPA with AT&T. This option is usually not too expensive although it does require a contract be activated with a monthly fee for the access.
Recently some OEMs have started offering Gobi technology, which can be either CDMA or HSDPA, meaning it can work with all the 3G networks in the US and most globally. This makes sense for the OEM as they are not tied to one particular 3G technology, although they still usually offer it through one particular network. Integrated 3G has some benefits for the mobile worker and while I have not wanted my 3G to be tethered to one notebook I am softening somewhat in that stance.
We have been using the EV-DO network from Verizon for years and are quite happy with that 3G service. I have also used AT&T and Sprint with various review units over the years and those services are pretty good too. Both Kevin and I currently access the Verizon BroadbandAccess service with a USB727 modem which allows us to plug the modem into any computer with a USB port. This provides a level of flexibility which is important to us as we evaluate so many different notebooks.
We have made it clear that integrated 3G in a notebook is not the way to go for us as the detached modem makes more sense for us than having the 3G tethered to a particular notebook. That hasn’t changed but the rash of traveling I have done this year has me softening on the idea of integrated WWAN for simplicity sake.
I have been traveling for a total of two weeks this year which is only about five weeks old. That’s unusual but it’s given me good exposure to the 3G life as I have spent all of my trips using 3G exclusively. The USB modem worked flawlessly and I have no complaints but I have to admit the stick has gotten in my way quite a bit while I was working. I have almost knocked it out of the USB port more than once as it sticks out from the side of the notebook a fair bit.
I found myself wishing a few times that the MacBook had the EV-DO integrated so that the modem wasn’t necessary. I have evaluated a number of notebooks with integrated 3G and I have to admit there is nothing easier than having the connectivity available with nothing else needed. Most notebooks with integrated 3G can be configured to automatically connect to the network as needed so it becomes just a part of the notebook like WiFi. You fire up the browser and if no WiFi connectivity exists the integrated 3G kicks in and connects you to the web. This is pretty darn convenient and I wished for that simplicity more than once on my trips.
I am not a normal notebook user since I go through so many review units so the integrated option is not practical and I’m not saying I would be able to go that route. I will admit that for the regular user who only uses one notebook this is a pretty good option though. My stance is definitely softening in this regard. If only there was some way to have the carrier let you easily switch the integrated connectivity from one device to another. I would sign up for that in a heartbeat.