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Wireless Networking Hardware

Comparing 3G Networks 127

bsk_cw writes "Brian Nadel got hold of cellular network cards from AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon, and tried them out with a Lenovo ThinkPad X300 notebook. He watched videos on commuter trains, worked with e-mail at cafes, listened to Internet radio at the airport, and downloaded large files while in a moving car. AT&T came out on top in his tests in the New York area (summary here). Some of the reader comments report different conclusions, so a YMMV is in order."
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Comparing 3G Networks

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  • by Joe The Dragon ( 967727 ) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @09:11PM (#23398156)
    and that cost a lot less.
  • What's the lag? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MBCook ( 132727 ) <> on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @09:12PM (#23398162) Homepage

    My big question would be: what's the lag?

    The last time I tried to use a cell network for internet access, the lag was horrid (300+ms) compared to real broadband. How is the lag on these systems? I'd rather have the responsive 450kbps connection than the unresponsive 1.5mbps connection.

    • by Brikus ( 670587 )
      I typically experience pings of at least 200ms on both CDMA and GSM networks.
    • I SSH into a machine on the other coast over my Sprint wifi sometimes, and connect to an irssi session running in 'screen'. It's pretty usable.
    • Re:What's the lag? (Score:5, Informative)

      by MyDixieWrecked ( 548719 ) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @10:15PM (#23398506) Homepage Journal
      I've got an AT&T Tilt (HTC Tytan II) with HSDPA/3G/EDGE/GSM/etc and depending on where I am and what network, I get wildly different results. These is by using the bluetooth internet sharing with my MacbookPro in OSX or using USB internet sharing with my Ubuntu Linux Vaio:

      Location / ping to / max download speed
      At my dad's house in NJ / ~400-800ms / ~65K/sec
      NJTransit Train in NJ / ~80-90ms / ~110/sec
      NJX Airport / ~40-50ms / ~120K/sec
      In Brooklyn / ~70-80ms / ~120K/sec
      In Manhattan / ~40-50ms / ~120K/sec
      • OT I know, but what airport is NJX?

        Newark is EWR... Morristown is MMU, Trenton is TTN... is NJX a new one? I wasn't aware of a new airport in NJ...

        • erm... yeah I meant EWR...

          I think I accidently typed the name of the workgroup for one of my old employers... hehe.

          I knew 'NJX' didn't look right.
    • by cos(0) ( 455098 )
      Using my Samsung SGH-T509 cell phone as a dial-up modem (over a USB cable), I typically experience latency of 700-1200ms. My cellular provider is T-Mobile, and I'm in Richardson, Texas. The speed is about 25 KB/s at best, though T-Mobile allows this luxury only for HTTP connections; the rest are throttled to about 4-6 KB/s.
    • 326ms... Having just tested 2 devices in a Verizon store at "".
    • If you're asking about lag for gaming - i tethered my old ATT Tilt on my home computer, shared the internet connection with my xbox, and played Halo 3 for a few hours one night when my Comcast went out. I had less lag than i do with Comcast.

      Though since we're on the topic, i used to have verizon, and i had the XV6700. My friend had an 8525 with ATT and we'd always compare broadband speed with a test from DSL Reports browsed to on the phone (he always said VZW sucks so i always had to prove him wrong). We
  • by postbigbang ( 761081 ) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @09:19PM (#23398198)
    Philadelphia's muniWiFi network goes dead next month when Earthlink pulls the plug.

    Oddly, the telcos start allowing metered access of their 3G networks; no all-you-can-eat plans anymore. In megabyte increments in one case.....

    • Hey, it works with text messaging. Why wouldn't they charge large amounts for something that costs them a lot less?

      On a side note, Verizon has been doing that for a while with their "data plans". Last I checked they were limiting my phone to 100 MB per month. Good thing I don't use it for internet.

      • Although I wonder how you get email it it's not 'internet', my old plan didn't seem to have any boundaries, just crappy and mercurial service. I had to mod various ugly plist files on my Mac to make it work, and Linux was plainly not going to see it as a modem without a lot of work. This guy used Windows; the low-hanging-fruit test.

        The reality is that wireless broadband as expoused by the carriers in the US is on the meter now; it's not really broadband just bits-per-buck.
    • by cjb658 ( 1235986 )

      Oddly, the telcos start allowing metered access of their 3G networks; no all-you-can-eat plans anymore. In megabyte increments in one case.....

      Sounds like they're trying to get us used to the idea again. Remember when AOL was $10 a month for 10 hours and $2 per hour extra for each additional hour? If that happened again, people would flip.

      I hope consumers are smart enough to vote with their wallets when such policies come to DSL and Cable modems.

      • I gave up my Verizon plan; $60/mo was ridiculous. Convenient, yes. Frustrating, yes. Mercurial on a good day, impossible on a bad one.

        Yeah, the meter is on. Let's hope this form of 'broadband' changes, and soon. I was hoping that WiMAX would be real, but even with the recent divorce and remarriage of Clearwire and Sprint and Intel, I don't give it much of a chance. I like Craig McGaw's LEO access balloons.....
        • by cjb658 ( 1235986 )

          WiMAX would be nice, but until then, I'm trying to be part of the solution by keeping my WAP open. Hopefully others will follow suit, and companies that make routers will make it easier to do so without having your LAN pwned.

          • It might be quixotic, but you're a nice person. Your carrier might have some problem it... and it might be illegal to use your AP depending on the locale.

            It reminds me of the old biker saying, ass grass or gas, nobody rides for free.....
    • Oddly, the telcos start allowing metered access of their 3G networks; no all-you-can-eat plans anymore.

      It's not odd at all. In fact that's exactly what I would expect them to do when there's no competition. Should be easy to see why they want it outlawed. I would like to know how good 3G service is and how much it costs in cities with muniWiFi.
  • Where I live in North Texas, I lose calls on my AT&T 3G phone all the time, as it drops down to a different service level. I've even gotten the dreaded "Emergency service only" a few times on various days. Considering the town/city I live in has over 100K people and 2 pretty large universities, it has been surprising how poorly their 3G coverage is.

    Considering my cell phone is my work phone (I work from home), this is not a good thing. The only reason I use AT&T is because at the time, there was
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Blahbooboo3 ( 874492 )
      Why not get a VOIP phone?
    • by cjb658 ( 1235986 )

      Have you tried Skype or other VOIP services? They seem perfect for you.

    • I found Verizon's EVDO to be the best performer here in the D/FW metroplex. Smokes AT&T's 3G aircard service for breakfast. We've used Sprint before too, and they're pretty good at least in most of the high-techy areas of the metroplex too, plus also around the D/FW airport where all four major carriers VZW, ATT, T-Mobile and Sprint all have strong coverage.

      Considering the town/city I live in has over 100K people and 2 pretty large universities, it has been surprising how poorly their 3G coverage is.

  • This comparison doesn't take into account both Verizon and Sprint's EV-DO revA networks, which are faster than the rev0 networks he was using. He may not live in a revA market, though.
  • What happens if your not on this list []?
    You're boned.
  • In reality, there is no comparison. Unless you live in a MAJOR metropolitan area, GSM 3G is non-existent. On the other hand, Verizon offers EVDO in many areas of NORTH DAKOTA, where the largest 'city' has fewer than 100k people. When any GSM carrier can claim coverage in a significant portion of this state, I'll give them some consideration. Until then, they're about as useful as an asshole on an elbow.
    • I have family in North Dakota, and In-Laws in Shiner TX (where they brew the beer), which is much closer so I visit more often.

      Verizon certainly has better coverage in North Dakota (last time I was there I got a basic GPRS 2G connection , not even Edge's 2.5G.), but Verizon and sprint go DEAD in Shiner, TX. AT&T coverage works everywhere I need it too.

      I still have a bad taste in my mouth from the Verizon V710 and the bluetooth debacle. If they are going to call my ability to transfer a picture from my
    • by CompMD ( 522020 )
      I consistently can pull 926Kbps down on my Sprint HTC Apache in the middle of rural Jefferson, Douglas, and Franklin Counties, Kansas. In Lawrence I can get over 1Mbps down. I have made fun of everyone I've met around here who bought an iPhone for Internet access. I also have a friend who has T-Mobile's retarded little brother version of the Apache (can't remember the model, but it has a 200MHz OMAP versus the 416MHz XScale) and his data service is *atrociously* bad. Good thing we have municipal wifi in
  • by DavidD_CA ( 750156 ) on Tuesday May 13, 2008 @10:54PM (#23398738) Homepage
    Maybe something already exists, but wouldn't it be cool if there was some kind of app that people could install on their laptops that would upload metrics to a central server and make it available to review?

    The app could tie into the 3G card and pull your approximate location, your carrier, and your average speed and upload it all to a server. As long as it doesn't also upload personal data, or your IP, etc, I can't foresee privacy issues (and it would be opt-in anyway).

    With enough people running an app like this, the data could come together quite nicely and allow people to view a map overlayed with the different networks and average performance.

    And I bet such a site could be supported by ad revenue. (3: Profit)
    • You mean like dslreports [] has been doing forever and a day?

      It's too bad they don't have the results broken down in a more useful manner, and don't ask where you are when you do the speed test.
  • I used AT&T for several months along the East coast, and thought it was crappy. I ended up paying the early termination fee just because I got better service from free wireless points, and hotel wireless.
  • by loshwomp ( 468955 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2008 @12:08AM (#23399088)
    I want to know if there are carriers that will provide data service and not completely rape me when I travel overseas. Usually when I ask a US carrier about international anything (rates, service, whatever) they have nothing but blank stares to offer.

    How do you get data service overseas?
    • How do you get data service overseas?

      Wireless hotspots or I rent another 3G card. It would seem that Telcos the world over are set on using any kind or roaming and data especially to fund a larger private jet for their execs. Calls I can kind of get, but the cost of providing data access abroad must oly be a fraction more than in the home country of the user it should just be ensuring that the billing and access authoriation infra is in place.

      Wireless can work pretty well, I used to use iPass which worked in every country I went to, no ide

      • The problem isn't the cost of actually providing data-transfer in other networks.
        The problem is that all network-operators charge all the other network-operators ridiculous sums for roaming clients and thus no operator can afford to lower what they charge for roaming.

        It's ridiculous.
    • How often and for how long do you travel abroad?
      It might be best to get a local subscription if you mostly go to one country and do this a lot.

      If you go to Europe and travel between countries, you must check to see that you get one that let you use the free data-rate while roaming though...
      Most don't and you still get the rape when roaming.

      Examples of 7.2Mbit/s services from in sweden:
      $16.24/month with a 1GB/month cap, then the service gets throttled to 30kbit/s
      $26.08/month with a 5GB/month cap
  • In the USA is yankee doodle dandy, but what I'm wondering is which aircard has the best coverage internationally. I have customers who use there aircards overseas, especially in New Zealand which seems to be the biggest trouble area. I have heard using aircards internationally is atrocious (I have not ever left the lower48).
  • by knutsdood ( 866904 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2008 @01:14AM (#23399370)
    As an IT manager for a consulting business, 80% of my workforce is on the road 80% of the year. Broadband cards are absolutely critical to our success. We field test all over the nation and offer all three options. Our people have decided on 2 Verizon cards, 6 dozen Sprint cards and nobody has opted for the ATT card.

    Our consultants are regularly in NYC, Philly, Houston, Chicago, LA, San Francisco, Seattle, Vancouver and Dallas.

    If it helps anybody, Sprint is weak in New Jersey and parts of the Dallas area. Verizon picks up New Jersey nicely and this is where both of our Verizon cards are primarily deployed. Verizon and ATT are both not superior in Dallas so perhaps something else makes them all less than perfect.

    One last soon as iPhone 2.0 comes out, and sells like hotcakes, the ATT network is going to be watch.
  • Is there an easy-to-use hardware device which will accept one of these 3G cards and act like a WiFi accesspoint, for a mobile WiFi solution?

    I've been looking for one, but with mixed results.

    • Is there an easy-to-use hardware device which will accept one of these 3G cards and act like a WiFi accesspoint, for a mobile WiFi solution?

      I've been looking for one, but with mixed results.

      These do exist, but I can't remember who makes them. I spent a while in Switzerland with me from the UK, a guy from Germany and a Swiss guy all working at a client, we used the Swiss 3G card and a device which does exactly as you describe and it worked really well. I'll come back if it occurs to me later today

    • by Anonymous Coward
      stompbox []
      is an OSS Mobile 3G/WiFi Router Project.
    • Linksys [], among others make a wirelress router box that will accept one of these cards. Disclaimer: I haven't used one, so I don't know if it fits the characteristic of "easy to use."

      Additionally, some PDA smartphones can run the app WMWiFiRouter, which will share its data service through ad-hoc WiFi connections. I once set this up through my HTC Mogul (Sprint) and served up a connection to two laptops simultaneously. Unfortunately, the data connection dropped every time the voice portion of the phon

  • I've had the mobile broadband service from Sprint for well over a year and have felt it worth the money. First off, I pay $60/month for unlimited usage. No bandwidth caps. Secondly, the speed isn't bad at all. I can reasonably play UT with decent (100 or so) pings. Speed: 642k down, 210 up to SpeakEasy in NY from Ohio. 624/147 to LinkLine in LA. I live in a rather rural area which (up until recently) had no DSL and definitely has no cable access. Coupled with the fact that I'm constantly on the ro
    • I also use Sprint's service in the S.F. Bay Area and I'm impressed with it. The no-cap policy is what first attracted me but now it's the reliability that has made it worth it. It's a very good service.
  • Anyone thinking of trying out AT&T, Sprint, or Verizon should check their coverage maps carefully. I have great difficultly in getting a reliable connection here in Australia.
    • by mgblst ( 80109 )
      I am surprised you get a connection at all from AT&T, Sprint, or Verizon in Australia. What sort of antenna do you have?
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by jasonwea ( 598696 ) *
        My signal bars go up to eleven!
        • Well, I'm and AT&T customer, and I'm quite sure I would have service there, being GSM/UMTS and all. I'd be paying an arm and a leg in roaming charges tho!
          • All 4 major networks here (Telstra, Optus, Vodaphone, Three) are GSM and HSDPA enabled.

            AT&T would certainly have a roaming agreement with at least one of our providers here, probably Telstra. But yes, roaming charges are generally quite outrageous.
            • $1.69/min, $0.50 per SMS sent (incoming still free), $0.0195/KB for data access.

              The fortunate thing is that I can call AT&T and ask for a SIM unlock code for free if I'm going overseas in order to use a prepaid SIM. What's better than that is the fact that not only is my phone firmware unlocked (I can install any operating system that supports my phone's radio and CPU), the SIMlock has been removed already!

              If I chose to keep my SIM, however, it seems that every provider in Australia gives me access to t
  • Trial and error is key -- once you narrow the cost/feature choices then MUST actually try it out in your circumstances, especially for "difficult" environments like commuter trains. Remember they all have return policies for good reason!

    Example: Metro North commuter train in NYC:

    1. first tried AT&T, which worked great at my house but had a major dead zone on the commuter train -- the connection would always break at that location and have to be restarted... unacceptable. Returned everything to AT&T
  • It was not clear to me how in-depth the testing was at given times during the day, night, week, month, etc.

    I would imagine that actual performance is significantly impacted by the number of users - not only of the data service, but all of the folks using their mobile phones as phones at the time(s) tests were conducted.

    Voice and data is fighting for the tower's attention, and I would assume most carriers would start ratcheting down data speeds/capacities if their towers were seeing a lot of voice call
  • I work for a signage company that uses about 70+ Verizon Broadband devices (as well as about having 15+ employees laptops equipped with them) so i can speak more to reliability then data speed.

    In general the experience with Verizon has been very good. Coverage is excellent for the most part across in country in any major to mid major city. We have very very rarely not been able to grab data signal and we put them in some odd places like subway systems. Also i am noticing most places i sign onto now pe
  • He must be the exception, form our tests sprint and Verizon have the best coverage and speed, we have over 30 users that are on the road constantly up and down the east coast from Florida to NY.
    We used to use ATT but switched over to sprint and some Verizon due to the coverage factor, and when 3g is not available we can use 1xRTT which is by far still faster than EDGE.
  • Hi.

    My provider is not mentioned in this article's list, it is called "Centennial de Puerto Rico" [].

    I have just tested their service back at [] and got: DL 1023kb/s, 559kb/s, and 137ms latency, to their Miami, FL. server.

    At some other time it tested like 1500kb/s download, and I have seen, according to Linux, downloads of up to 200KB/s (if only for a few seconds).

    Pinging Google gives the following, all in ms: 102.00, 99.5, 102.00, 138.00, 108.00

    The modem they gave is an Axesstel, CDMA 1xEV
  • The AT&T card he tested, a Sierra 881U, does have a GPS receiver in it, but AT&T's connection utility doesn't provide access to it. Don't hold your breath, but it's possible a future software update would add GPS functionality. Sprint's GPS features were unavailable to Macs until very recently.
    • There are lots of hacks that enable GPS functionality on your various broadband devices. Most of the broadband devices I've seen have some sort of GPS capability, and in many cases its as simple as adding or changing a Windows registry setting. The Dell Mobile-blah Card Utility comes to mind.

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