My stance on integrated 3G is softening


computer_abstract_139212Notebook 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 (s s) or Verizon (s vz) or HSDPA with AT&T (s 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.



James, now you know why I’m a sucker for express card slots. Most of your issues would be gone with an express card device inserted in the notebook versus a USB stick hanging out waiting to be broken off.

But since you have gone that route already, I’m note sure what else to say.

I go through a lot of notebooks myself, but if it doesn’t have an express card slot, I’m tossing it.

That includes netbooks.

But going back to your post, I would consider a notebook/netbook with built-in gobi just so that I had flexibility to change providers and not be stuck with proprietary hardware. I’d say for many users, flexibility is key with a 3G solution that’s built-in. Hardware that works on multiple networks is a plus in my book.


with all of the netbooks sold in the last 6 months you would think the price plan of 3g service would go down so they could increase revenue.

i missed the netshare app offer for my iphone and still kick myself for it.

get smart AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, etc. if you make it affordable, they will come.


Also those little usb adapters that let you do a 90 degree angle can help too.


I’ve been dealing with the usb modem sticking-out issue recently. Sprint’s wimax modem (available in Baltimore) actually has a short cable and a little clip that clips it to the top of the display. That looks nifty. I may get a short usb cable and velcro the modem to the back of the display. Someone should make a product for this.


Hi there

As an enthusiastic mobile device user, I was looking for integrated 3G options in Tablet PC/Notebook/Netbook for a while and have tried a couple of solutions. Actually I am on a LG X110 with integrated 3G, running Windows 7 on it.

It’s great for sure – if you are doing city travelling. If you end up somewhere country side, you get – nothing! The integrated antennas are far away from the signal, spoken in pictures. I just had that now two or three times and guess how I ended up being online? With a simple bluetooth connection to my Blackberry 8900, that has a good receiption even in the woods.

Knowing where I travel frequently, I am really starting to think again if an integrated 3G solution is the right package for me or if it is the better way to dial up via Bluetooth/Blackberry since I know for sure now that this connection is more reliable and stable and works even in the woods…

Cheers, Lutz

Simon Dale


I’ve been using T-Mobile’s Web n’ Walk on a standard Pay and Go SIM for well over a year and I’ve got plenty of friends/ family/ clients doing the same.

It’ll cost you nothing for the SIM card and then its just 50p per day for unlimited use. If you don’t use it for a couple of months there’s absolutely nothing to pay.

My Fujitsu P1610 has integrated 3G but I rarely use it these days. However, on the few days that I do it costs me only 50p per day!

You can even top up online or by sending a text message from the PC itself. Absolutely superb if you ask me.

It is technically 3G (UMTS) not HSDPA but I’d be amazed if you can tell the difference. The latency will be the same its just the top speed that will differ and on a mobile device I wouldn’t expect you to be downloading movies…

If you need a modem I’d get one off ebay. The Huawei E220 is cheap now and easy to unlock even if you buy a non-T-Mobile branded version.

When you go into the T-Mobile shop and ask for a SIM be sure not to mention that its for your PC. Just ask for a standard pay as you go phone SIM. Otherwise they’ll try to upsell you to the data packages which aren’t necessary.

I hope this helps



I am waiting for Verizon to make a data plan that can be shared. I barely use my EVDO modem’s data allowance. I would like to have, say, three laptops in the family that could share the plan. There’s not way I am getting data plans for all of our gadgets.


Phil Lee

I’ve been tempted by T-Mobile’s Mobile Broadband Daily which they offer here in the UK. You pay £39.13 for the USB modem then pay £2 per day when you want to use it.


That’s not too bad for you to come around – considering it took you at least a year to finally admit that Vista was a dog. Oh how you waxed poetic on how wonderful Vista was on your Fujitsu…

Stacey Higginbotham

James, according to QCOM, if the OEM and buyer wants it, there is software that can be installed on the machine to both search for the best available network as well as select from a pull down menu. This is not targeted at people like yourself, but for large corporations with traveling execs. They get all the good stuff.


so there might indeed be an advantage using the plans of some european providers which offer prepaid services with e.g hourly usage/billing plans combined with a usb modem stick switchable between different machines.

James Kendrick

I should add that my own experience shows that in the US the Verizon 3G coverage is vastly superior to their competitor’s and that means no SIM card being CDMA.

James Kendrick

Steve, those US customers with AT&T have a SIM card so they can indeed switch between devices but it still requires a 3G data plan which can be $60 a month. Good point about the better antennas, I have seen that advantage too.

Steve 'Chippy' Paine

Obviously its different in the U.S. to Europe where we can swap SIMs in and out of devices in 9/10 cases but simplicity is a good driver for integrated 3G.
The highlight for me comes when OEMs use the space inside the device to provide a top quality antenna. That makes all the difference.
Integrated 3G software, 3G switches and optimised power control are all other examples of advantages.

It costs though!


P.S. Thanks for enabling post follow-up notification. Hadn’t spotted it until now but I guess it’s a recent thing. Very helpful.

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