With the WiFi-only Apple iPad about to go on sale tomorrow, and the growing number of other WiFi-only devices that consumers already have, you might be faced with the problem of needing to get online when you’re not sure there’ll be free wireless around. Here are seven options to satisfy your lust for Internet connectivity on the go, when a smartphone isn’t enough to do the job. Here are seven Internet connectivity options to cover just such occasions.
- Mobile Hotspot. Verizon offers Internet tethering (aka Mobile Hotspot) on Palm WebOS phones (Pixi and Pre Plus). As of a few days ago, this was a $40/month charge, over and above the minutes & data plans. As of April 1st (yesterday), the monthly charge dropped to zero, possibly because of the official launch of Apple’s WiFi-only iPads tomorrow. (It’s not an April Fool’s joke from Verizon. I checked their pricing plans. If you already purchased this service previously like I just did, your bill will reflect the price change. The Pixi and Pre Plus phones also dropped in price, and some people think Verizon wants Apple WiFi-only iPad purchasers to considering switch their phones over to Pixi or Pre Plus. Note: The HTC Evo smartphone is also capable of this “MiFi” option.
- Overdrive 3G/4G. Sprint, at the least, offers a palm-sized device, the Overdrive, that connects to the internet over 4G networks — degrading supposedly gracefully to 3G where 4G is not available — and lets you share that connection with other WiFi devices. The price of the Overdrive varies between carriers, and there’s a data access charge of approximately US$60/month. There are other similar devices available.
- 3G netbook. Verizon and possibly other carriers are offering BOGO (buy one get one) free deals where you can get 2 phones (plus monthly fee for minutes + data). Some allow one of the “freebies” to be a netbook. I bought a HP 311 3G netbook for my wife to take with her when she visits friends, instead of lugging around her MacBook. In the deal, I got a Palm Pre Plus for free, and paid for the Mobile Hotspot option (see #1 above) as well. If you don’t need two smartphones but want to take advantage of “free”, a netbook is a cheaper option. They do run on a cellular network, but you don’t have to pay for minutes. These devices also work over WiFi.
- PCMCIA laptop 3G cards. These cards plug into older MS Windows-based laptops. Many newer laptops don’t have the PCMCIA slot anymore. Ask your cellular provider for details. The cards are about the size of a business card, but thicker.
- USB 3G cards. All new laptops (PC, Mac) most netbooks and possibly other devices have USB ports. USB 3G cards also work over a cellular network and have the flexibility of not being tied to a single device. However, some carriers offer deals if you’re buying two or more.
- Free or pay-per-use public WiFi. AT&T, Boingo and others offer a variety of public WiFi options for their access points across the country. (Boingo in particular is targeting Apple iPad users.) Some options are free, others require a plan or a pay-as-you-go charge. Somes cafes, restaurants and other establishments offer free WiFi. Some municipalities offer citywide public WiFi. A few require you to view a sponsored ad first; others might require a subscription beyond email access, etc.
- Other “personal hotspot” options. A few carriers offer devices that look like WiFi routers (or possibly in vertical form factor) that can be taken with you from city to city, plugged into a wall outlet, then used to connect online over a cellular network, though not necessarily with 3G let alone 4G. Given the size of these devices (though they’re light), this is probably the least favorable option.
Check with your cellular providers for more details. Take note that some of these options have monthly data caps that are easy to exceed if you listen to a lot of streaming music or watch a lot of streaming video. Some plans have no roaming option out-of-country, so if you take your connection option with you while traveling, be careful else you might have a $10,000 bill. For that reason, and between my wife and I working online so much, I’ve had to ensure triple redundancy of Internet connections, in case we’re roaming about. What do you do when you need to stay connected?