AT&T 3G | 2009

AT&T Mobile Broadband | 2009 Review

3G Speed Great, 3G Coverage Not So Much

If you’re interested in AT&T, please refer to the 2012 AT&T 4G Review. This review is dated.


Unfortunately, that comes with strings attached.

While their Laptop connect plan is $60 for 5 Gigabytes, AT&T has the highest overage charge of all carriers. Also, much to the ire of rural customers, they don’t have the best 3G coverage.

One redeeming quality is AT&T’s penchant for striking deals with manufacturers. Thankfully, this extends beyond phones to their line of 3G mobile broadband cards.


AT&T 3G Plans

200 MB for $40. 5 GB for $60.

AT&T 3G Plans | 2009

Most people will end up with the $60 plan as it’s pretty easy to blaze through 200 MB with the large amount of media on the web today.

Perhaps the most interesting is the statement:

“DataConnect is not an unlimited plan. Learn more about data usage”.

– AT&T

Most recently, a lady bought a netbook with built-in AT&T mobile broadband from RadioShack. No mention of the cap was made and so she blew past the 5 GB limit to end up with a $5,000 bill. How in the world could something like that happen?

Easy. It’s all in…


The Fine Print

If you look closely at AT&T broadband prices & plans, you’ll see this:

  • Additional data – $0.00048/KB
  • International data – $0.0195/KB

Now, I don’t know about you, but last time I checked, nobody thought about things in terms of KBs.

What’s all this stuff about KB, MB & GB?

For the ‘base 2′ uninitiated (mostly everyone), KB stands for Kilobyte (not to be confused with kilobit, kb). 1024 Kilobytes makes 1 Megabyte. 1024 Megabytes make 1 Gigabyte. Now, while most of us don’t think in terms of Kilobytes and Megabytes, a Gigabyte is something that we can get a grasp on (it even sounds bigger).

So, to get a better grasp on how much that additional data will really hoodwink us for, let’s convert that to Gigabytes.$0.00048/KB works out to be $0.49 cents per MB or…wait for it…

$503.31 for every extra Gigabyte you use.

How amazing is that?

$60 for the first 5 Gigabytes, then $503.31 for every Gigabyte after that. Technically, you’re paying $12 for each of the first 5 Gigabytes.

An increase from $12/GB to $503.31/GB is almost a 4200% increase in price. Now, this might not strike you.

Perhaps you’re a visual person like myself.

AT&T Overage Charges

See now why they quote it in an teeny tiny number nobody relates to?

To add to the hilarity of this, I use somewhere between 50-60 Gigabytes per month. At my current usage, I’d be paying…

$25,156 in overages…per month.

Before you run and throw your broadband card out the window into the street to be mauled to pieces by interstate traffic, consider this:

Not everyone uses more than 5 Gigabytes per month. As a matter of fact, the statistics show that many people can do a whole lot of ‘interneting’ before hitting the cap.

For more on this, see “How Much Is 5 GB & Is It Enough?”

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AT&T 3G Speed

The Fastest Mobile Broadband Network?

AT&T 3G Speeds | 2009

Since last year, AT&T has increased their advertised average 3G speeds:

Typical download speeds of 700 Kbps – 1.7 Mbps and typical upload speeds of 500 Kbps – 1.2 Mbps. – AT&T

On paper, that’s faster than the average speeds Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile provide on their respective 3G networks.

Not bad at all.

But what about the maximum speed?

Sprint and Verizon’s maximum mobile broadband speeds are higher than these ‘typical speeds’. 3.1 Mbps to be exact. Interestingly enough, you won’t find a maximum quoted speed on AT&T’s site. If they did, it would make them look bad.

That’s right.

While AT&T is working on their network, they have not maxed out the potential of their underlying HSPA technology. If they did, we could have download speeds up to 14.4 Mbps and upload speeds up to 5.8 Mbps. See how the current 1.7 Mbps (download) and 1.2 Mbps (upload) look small now?

So what’s stopping them?


Issue #1: Power.

Being able to download or upload at higher speeds requires more power from whatever source you’re using. Since HSPA is inherently a mobile technology, that means more power being drained from your laptop or phone. More power being drained equals less battery life.

While this is not scientific by any measure, think about this.

If you increased your download speed by a magnitude of ten, would you be willing to accept one tenth of the battery life you now get from your laptop or phone? Most laptop batteries go for anywhere between 2 – 5 hours. Think 30 – 60 minutes instead.


Issue #2: Cost.

With AT&T already capping mobile broadband plans at 5 Gigabytes, imagine how fast you’d hit that cap with 10 times the speed you have now. It would be too ridiculous to have a 5 GB cap. That means AT&T would have to expand the current network capacity (spend money).

While they eventually will have to, they most likely won’t until market pressure (think demand and competition) is great enough. In other words, around late 2010 or early 2011 when Verizon starts launching it’s new LTE network.

But what about now?


Isn’t AT&T The Fastest 3G Network?

“The fastest 3G network claim is based on a variety of tests conducted by leading third-party researchers, who downloaded a variety of applications and files to test throughput and overall performance. AT&T was the winner by a significant margin”. – AT&T

One of AT&T’s mobile broadband commercials. Wait till the end to hear the snippet on ‘the nation’s fastest network’

While they offer no resources to read the report or who actually conducted it, there have been no public challenges to the claim by its competitors.

Does that make it true?

For now it seems so…if not for other publicized tests that seem to contradict this claim. To make matters worse, a Gartner research report released in January found that “data speeds for mobile phone users are often half of what is advertised by the carriers”.

The most problems were found with AT&T.

While this report talks about mobile phone users, mobile broadband Laptop Connect subscribers use the same network. It’s not a far stretch to have the same issues affect them as well.

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AT&T 3G Coverage

Best International Coverage. Domestic? Not So Much With Data Outages.

AT&T 3G Coverage | 2009
While it’s quite undisputed that AT&T has the best mobile broadband global coverage, their coverage in the United States may leave you wanting more.

While its available in most cities, Verizon and Sprint have them beat.

To drive the nail into the coffin, Verizon displays how much more mobile broadband coverage they have on their map.

Does that mean you should drop any thoughts of AT&T for Verizon or Sprint?

Not just yet.

While having nationwide coverage is excellent, it might not be necessary for you. If you know that you spend most of your time in urban environments (even while traveling), you may not experience any lack of 3G.

In the times that you do, the speed offers by AT&T’s EDGE network (which is just about everywhere) may be quite manageable. Additionally, as we covered in our previous AT&T Coverage review, AT&T 3G coverage is supplemented with WiFi Hotspots:

AT&T also provides complimentary WiFi access at 17,000 Starbucks locations nationwide to supplement their 3G coverage.


AT&T 3G Data Outages

Over the last year, AT&T has taken some serious hits with 3G data outages on multiple occasions.

Once, a major network outage stretched far along the northeast. On a separate occasion, the east coast was without 3G or EDGE coverage. Early in 2009, the east coast was affected yet again.

It’s not just the east coast either.

In February of this year, Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana all got a chance to share in the data outage jamboree.

What’s the official reason for these outages?

While AT&T has quoted reasons like cut cables and other isolated events, the huge suspect is that the current influx of 3G iPhone data users are straining the network beyond what they originally anticipated.

The end result?

Everyone feels the pinch.

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AT&T Broadband Cards

2 USB Broadband Cards. ExpressCards & PC Cards Now Shelved.

While AT&T used to offer a variety of PC Cards and ExpressCards alongside USB broadband cards, the former models have been discontinued. Now, only broadband cards are available thanks to their wider range of compatibility.


AT&T Broadband Card



Extra Storage

Quicksilver USB ConnectAT&T Quicksilver USB ConnectAT&T USBConnect Mercury 2000/XP/Vista Mac OS X/Panther/Leopard/Tiger No microSD (up to 32 GB)
Sierra Wireless Mercury USB AirCardAT&T USBConnect MercuryAT&T USBConnect Mercury 2000/XP/Vista /Mac OS X No microSD


Retired models:

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AT&T Customer Service

Below Average.

Last year, J.D. Power & Associates rated AT&T customer service “3 out of 5 power circles”.

Since then, they’ve fallen to 2 out of 5 power circles. Check out the full results below (click for the full press release):

2009 Customer Care Study - Volume 1

If customer service is your make or break issue, you might end up looking somewhere else.



Plans: C

Speed: B+

Coverage: B

Devices: B

Customer Service: D

Overall: B-

Not Sure About AT&T?
Check out our Postpaid Mobile Broadband Comparison
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  1. Peter Hurley says:

    At&t has the worst customer service representatives in the planet! it’s amazing how un-professional this people are, they keep you waiting for hours, and they treat customers very rudely , only to solve a simple phone issue! And if that wasn’t enough AT&T’s Customer Service call center are located in San Jose Costa Rica! Exactly in Moravia (I’ve done my research) . Just Great ….a bunch of people who’s english is incomprehensible and spelling is worst! Come on guys !! do not be fooled by this multi millionaire company. Apart from all this crap , AT&T’s signal in United States is incredibly atrocious and painfully inefficient. Save yourselves a lot of trouble , expensive and hidden fees and switch to VERIZON , they do know how to get things done !

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