I've been using Sprint's broadband service for many months and have had no problems.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

T e c h n o f i l e
Sprint's wireless computer modem is fast and trouble-free

Dec. 9, 2007

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2007, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2007, The Post-Standard

   Every modern laptop computer comes with wireless capability these days. But as many laptop users already know, finding a wi-fi connection, or hotspot, can be hard, especially if you're away from home.
   Even when you locate a hotspot, you quickly find that wi-fi signals usually can't travel very far -- 150 feet or so is about the maximum. That's why many laptop users are turning to a different way of connecting wirelessly. It's called wireless broadband. It uses a little device that plugs into your laptop (or is built right in, in some cases). Wireless broadband devices connect to cell phone towers and work inside buildings and moving vehicles.
   But -- there's always a "but," right? -- wireless broadband isn't free the way most wi-fi is. The cell phone companies that offer it charge as much as $80 a month if you don't already have a cell phone account with the carrier. If you can't write off the monthly expense as a business deduction and you're not married to Donald Trump, this kind of wireless freedom could add hundreds of dollars a year to the cost of your lifestyle.
   If you just cried out for financial mercy, you've got company. I find most wireless broadband plans too expensive, too. So when I looked at the least expensive way of staying online no matter where I am, I was drawn to Sprint's mobile broadband service. Unlike Verizon's wireless plan, which costs $80 for non-cell subscribers and $60 if you have a Verizon cell phone account, Sprint charges $60 whether you have a Sprint cell phone account or not. This saves $20 a month over Verizon's plan if you want to stick with your current cell phone service.
   The Sierra Aircard itself can cost literally anything from "free" to more than $100, depending on the deal you make and whether you buy it from Sprint or from a discounter. Look for the best deal.
   I've been using Sprint's broadband service for many months and have had no problems. I wanted to be able to use Sprint's service no matter which laptop I was carrying, so I chose a USB modem instead of the increasingly popular plug-in card design. Every laptop has a USB connection, but small laptops such as my wife's Apple iBook don't have space for a card slot.
   The modem is a Sierra Wireless Aircard, model 595U. It's smaller than a Snickers bar and can plug directly into a USB jack using a snap-out USB plug. If that's not feasible, you can use a cute little base station that's included with the modem. Sprint didn't have much Aircard support for Apple's Mac OS X computers when I started using the service, but that's improved now, and there's no difference between the way the Sierra Aircard works on Windows and a Mac. (I use it on both.)
   Unlike the Verizon broadband device I used last summer (for the report, go to www.technofileonline.com/texts/tec072207.html), the Sprint modem has always performed at near-broadband speeds and has never dropped the line. A caution might be in order if you're used to wi-fi speeds: Wireless broadband is likely to be slower than wi-fi. The Verizon modem I used was sometimes much slower, but the Sprint device has held up well.
   A small touch I appreciated was the fit and finish of the Sierra Wireless Aircard. It looked and felt like a piece of jewelry. I enjoyed passing it around to admiring friends and asking them to guess what it was for. Many seemed surprised that a modem, the most utilitarian of all computer accessories, could be so pleasant to the touch.