The connection speed could only be described as a drizzle instead of a flow.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

T e c h n o f i l e
AT&T high-speed wireless broadband modem performs badly in tests

May 18, 2008

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2008, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2008, The Post-Standard

   After testing wireless broadband services from Verizon and Sprint, I was eager to give AT&T a chance to show off its latest offering. But my tests of a new AT&T broadband card were disappointing in major ways.
   I blame AT&T's advertising for any false hope I might have had. AT&T ads say the company's wireless service has "more bars in more places," but those bars seldom showed up in the locations we traveled through on a month-long motor-home journey. In nearly every case, the AT&T wireless broadband card picked up a much weaker signal than the Verizon and Sprint cards we tested, and the actual connection speed could only be described as a drizzle instead of a flow.
   But that was only one of the card's drawbacks. When I was finally able to get connections, weak ones usually disappeared after a few minutes and couldn't be brought back even when I took out the card and rebooted. (The AT&T modem I tested was designed to be snapped into a slot on the side of my laptop. It was an Option GT Ultra Express card.)
   Just as strangely, the card came with no software whatsoever for my computer. Windows computers are the only kind supported by AT&T, so anyone using a Mac has to make do with no-frills software that has to be downloaded from the card maker's site. I was surprised that AT&T, which supplies cell phone service for Apple's iPhone, would treat Apple's Mac users with such disdain.
   Wireless broadband cards -- some of them aren't actually "cards" at all but small USB devices -- work much the same way cell phones do. You can't get a wireless signal, and therefore can't get connected to the Internet, unless you're near a cell phone or broadband tower. AT&T's wireless broadband service uses three different connection methods, choosing the slowest one only when absolutely necessary.
   But the highest speed seldom showed up. Even in areas that should have had the fastest possible connections -- Titusville, Fla., next to NASA's East Coast facilities, is one such disappointing place -- the AT&T modem was pokey and iffy.
   Laptops that have wireless broadband modems let you do e-mail and surf the Web while in a vehicle. This was a huge benefit during our previous motor home journeys when I tested the Verizon and Sprint broadband cards. Both did very well while we were cruising at highway speeds. But the AT&T modem was all but unusable on the road. We had to stop and seek out free wi-fi hotspots many times.
   Costs seldom vary among providers -- they all seem to charge $60 a month for unlimited broadband use -- and the costs of the modems themselves can't be factored in easily because they're often practically free because of promotions. My choice at this point is Sprint wireless service using the Sierra Wireless Aircard, model 595U. It's a USB modem that works with any Windows or Mac computer.
   The first three articles in this series are online. They are:
      Verizon wireless broadband review: www.technofileonline/texts/tec072207.html.
      Sprint's wireless modem review: www.technofileonline/texts/tec120907.html
      AT&T modem is a disappointment (this article): www.technofileonline/texts/tec051808.html