Better coverage and smaller devices mean more of us can take our computing on the go. Phones increasingly come equipped with Wi-Fi, while ISPs like Cablevision (s CVC) and AT&T (s T) are deploying Wi-Fi networks for their subscribers. Meanwhile, data cards are becoming more common outside of the business world. Mobile connectivity through wireless broadband is important, but it can be hard to figure out how much a consumer really needs.
As budget-conscious consumers ponder the need to pay for pricey data card connections, I figured we’d lay out the differences among a variety of wireless broadband options. Who knows, maybe it’s worth it to switch out your 3G card for a $9.95 Boingo subscription for Wi-Fi access. People will typically pay more for ubiquitous mobile access such as what’s provided by the cell companies. However, for those content to have seamless access limited to their own cities, WiMAX may be a less expensive option. And for those who don’t travel much and have a provider such as Cablevision or AT&T (s T) that offers free hot spot access, Wi-Fi and its coffee-shop-mobile model may be sufficient. Check out the chart to see if you can save some money by making a switch.
|Cost||Ranges from free to as much as $10 a month for a service like Boingo or iPass.||Between $30 and $50 a month, depending on the type of plan.||Between $20 and $60, a month depending on plan size and provider.||Not available yet, but likely in line with cellular pricing for 3G.|
|Devices||Laptops, certain cell phones, netbooks and even gadgets such as cameras||external data cards and home modems||cell phones, external data cards and embedded in select notebooks||data cards will be out first|
|Coverage Model||Coffee shop mobile model where coverage is limited to a smaller geographic area such as a home, coffee shop or public park. It’s hard to easily hop networks and finding networks at all can be a challenge.||Metro mobile where deployed. Wireless anywhere within a metro area for home or on-the-go use. A user could hop from city to city with WiMAX deployments and have coverage, but couldn’t expect seamless access on the journey or in smaller towns.||Ubiquitous mobile where deployed. The user can access data wherever 3G networks are in place no matter how fast they’re traveling or where they are.||Ubiquitous mobile where deployed. When combined with 3G service, users should have mobile data in major cities and on the roads in between.|
|Speeds||Depends on the wired connection that supports the Wi-Fi. Can range from less than 1 Mbps to 11 Mbps.||Ranges from 768 kbps up to 6 Mbps.||Can range from less than 768 kbps to 7.2 Mbps on an HSPA + network.||Unknown, but estimated that it will range between 5 Mbps and 20 Mbps.|
|Bargains||A Starbucks card that will get you two hours of free Wi-Fi access at the popular coffee chain.||N/A||Cricket has a $40 5GB data card plan on its slower 2.5G network, and MetroPCS offers a $50 plan that includes data for cell phones. If you can tether the phone, that might work for 3G speeds.||N/A|