Get ready for faster mobile broadband — AT&T today announced a new USB adapter that will enjoy a theoretical doubling of 3G speeds in select markets. The USBConnect Lightning looks like your typical USB dongle, but it supports the faster 7.2 Mbps service that you’ll see in Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles and Miami before the year end. The new device goes on sale November 22 and is free with a two-year data plan commitment — you actually pay $99 for it, but get a $100 AT&T promo card. Also of note is a minor plan change — the lower 200MB monthly plan is dropping to $35 from $40. That’s still a bit much on a per megabyte cost, but it’s a $120 two-year savings from the prior plans.
Next year, the USBConnect Lightning and it’s anticipated future siblings will offer faster throughput in 25 of the nation’s largest 30 cities, while the final deployment completion is due in 2011. AT&T Communication Manager (ACM) 7.0 software is pre-loaded on the Lightning, so there’s no need for additional software or drivers. The ACM will help offload traffic as well — it will automatically connect users to an AT&T Hot Spot at no cost on eligible rate plans when there’s Wi-Fi coverage. The timing of this is fortuitous as I plan to be testing a different 7.2 Mbps USB device as early as this week. Stay tuned!