AT&T 3G | The Fastest Network?

AT&T Mobile Broadband | 2010 Review

AT&T 3G: The Nation’s Fastest Network?

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


Like before, AT&T Wireless Broadband’s heavily advertised strength is their “nation’s fastest 3G network’ title. However, all that glitters is definitely not gold. In some instances, it may not even be copper.

Here we review AT&T’s mobile broadband plans, prepaid mobile broadband, 3G speed, 3G coverage and broadband cards to find out if it’s worth your cash each month.



AT&T 3G Plans

For Laptops: 200 MB For $35 & 5 GB For $60.

AT&T 3G Plans | 2010

AT&T wireless broadband plans haven’t changed much since our last review. The main differences are:

  1. $5 price drop for the 200 MB plan.
  2. Addition of prepaid mobile broadband plans.
  3. A drastic drop in overage charges.

Not sure about which 3G plan you need? See How Much Is 5 GB & Is It Enough?

While overage charges are still kinda up there, before you might as well have mortgaged your house at $503.31/GB. Unfortunately, with regular international data charges, that’s still the case:



Monthly Cost
Wi-Fi Included?
Domestic Overage Charges
Canadian Data Charges
International Data Charges
Cancellation Fee

DataConnect 200 MB

$102.40 per GB
$15.36 per MB
$19.97 per MB

DataConnect 5 GB

$51.20 per GB
$15.36 per MB
$19.97 per MB


For Canadian data charges, that works out to be $15,728.64/GB.

For International data charges, that’s $20,449.28/GB.


To AT&T’s credit, free Wi-Fi is available for all mobile broadband plan subscribers at no extra charge.

It’s a great benefit as partnered Wi-Fi locations (over 17,000 spots including every Barnes & Noble bookstore) tend to be faster than the ” nation’s fastest 3G network “. It also helps them out by reducing the extra load caused by smartphones (particularly the iPhone) and now the iPad.

Speaking of which…

AT&T Wireless Broadband Plans Suck In Comparison to AT&T / Apple iPad Plans


Steve Jobs, master of all half-eaten apple tech items, dropped a bomb with the announcement of the iPad, Apple’s tablet.

What no one’s talking about is the knife that got simultaneously stabbed into the back of all existing and soon to be AT&T Mobile Broadband subscribers.

What’s the deal you say?

It’s simple.

iPad users get the same mobile broadband as regular AT&T mobile broadband plans’ subscribers for half the price, with no contract, & unlimited data usage. Ouch…


Apple iPad Plans vs. AT&T Mobile Broadband Plans
AT&T iPad Plans
AT&T Mobile Broadband
$14.99 for up to 250 MB
$35 for up to 200 MB
$29.99 for unlimited data
$60 for 5 Gigabytes of data
No Contract
2 year contract
Free WiFi
Free WiFi


So Basically AT&T 3G Plans are a Bad Idea?

Not necessarily.

While the painted picture above sounds like bubble, bubble, toil and trouble, AT&T actually has happy subscribers. Sure, they don’t have the nearly as large a 3G network as Sprint or Verizon, they still hold the crown as having the 3rd largest 3G footprint (aka coverage area).

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AT&T Prepaid Mobile Broadband

Great If You Need 3G Every Now & Then.

Prepaid mobile broadband is like a prepaid cell phone.

It’s good for just about anywhere but you’ve got to remember to ‘top up’ or pay in advance. In addition to this, you buy (as opposed to rent) the actual cell phone”.

Prepaid 3G Broadband Comparison

While Verizon was the first of the major providers to offer up prepaid mobile broadband, AT&T quickly followed suit with their own plans to rival their largest competitor.

If you were hoping for a price-war to cause less George Washingtons flowing out your pocket then unfortunately you’ll have to think again.

They simply duplicated Verizon’s offerings to prevent existing and potential new users to leave ’em for the big red.

Here’s what they copied:

AT&T Prepaid Mobile Broadband Plans | 2010


75 MB, 250 MB, & 500 MB Prepaid Plans differ not only in the amount of data but the length of time available to use it. You’ve got a day, a week and a month (30 days) respectively to use them up.

As such, you’ve got to have a pretty good grasp on how long you’ll be needing it for:

  • One shot use in an airport?
    Get the 75 MB plan DataConnect Day Pass plan.
  • Out of town for a business conference, vacation or visiting relatives for a few days?
    Get the 250 MB DataConnect Week Pass plan.
  • Need light access to the web for work in the field intermittently over the course of the month?
    Get the 500 MB DataConnect Month Pass plan.

The key to making these plans work is to already have a broadband card, mobile hotspot, or 3G netbook / notebook ready to get the job done. Without the equipment, you’re going nowhere online fast.

While it may cost you more upfront, over the long-term it’ll save you money.

If you know you’ll need it only once every 3 months or so and don’t wish to purchase any equipment, it’ll probably make sense to take a look at mobile broadband rental.

To purchase sessions, you’ll need a new SIM card or existing SIM card info (super tiny numbers scribbled printed on your card). You’ll need to access this specific page to buy data plans.

Also note that you’ll need a compatible device. If you don’t already have one, check out AT&T Broadband Cards for help on picking one out.

Whether you’re working with postpaid or prepaid mobile broadband, 3G speed, coverage & devices will remain the same.

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AT&T 3G Speed

Will They Remain The Fastest Mobile Broadband Network?

The last time AT&T 3G Speed got reviewed under the microscope, they held their claim to fame as the “fastest 3G network”.

On most accounts, they upheld their advertisement of “typical download speeds of 700 Kbps – 1.7 Mbps” and “typical upload speeds of 500 Kbps – 1.2 Mbps”.

Since that time, two tests were conducted by Gizmodo (in December 2009 covering 12 cities) and PC World (in March 2010 covering 13 cities) to see who had the fastest mobile broadband.

The tests covered 17 cities. Here’s how they did:

AT&T 3G Speeds | 2010

If 3G speed is your thing, then AT&T is the carrier of choice.

Before you start searching best broadband card, remember that mobile broadband speed is only one piece of the 4-part AT&T Wireless Broadband puzzle.

The last thing you need to plug in your shiny new AirCard only to find that you’ve got no signal. Sadly, with 3G speed being AT&T’s secret weapon, then its Achilles heel is surely 3G Coverage.

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AT&T 3G Coverage

Verizon 3G Coverage makes AT&T look like a joke.




AT&T doesn’t do terrible for 3G coverage in urban areas and along major interstates. To their credit, they’re working to make things better.

Seemingly taking note of the many 3G data outages that took place last year, they’re looking to make improvements (and profits for their shareholders). In their January investor update, they spoke specifically to improve quality in “high-usage markets”.


AT&T Investor Update: Improvements in High Usage Markets & Mobile Broadband



Source: AT&T Investor Update [AT&T via Engadget]


But Wait! There’s More!

While we’ve covered AT&T’s 3G plans, speed and now 3G coverage, there’s one final mystery to the AT&T Da Vinci Code.


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AT&T Broadband Cards

You’ve Got 1 Option. USB Cards.


There’s been a bunch of shelved AT&T AirCards & broadband cards. As it stands, there are only 3 current models available (& they’re all USB broadband cards).

Here’s the side-by-side matchup (newest cards listed to the left):


AT&T Broadband Card

USBConnect Velocity lg-usbconnect-turbo-3 AT&T USBConnect Lightning 305 AT&T Sierra Wireless Mercury USB Card

Full Review

Option USBConnect Velocity

LG USBConnect Turbo

Sierra USBConnect Lightning 305 Review

Quicksilver USBConnect Review

Video Review





Form Factor

USB Broadband Card

USB Broadband Card

USB Broadband Card

USB Broadband Card

Interactive Guide / Tutorial



AT&T USBConnect Mercury

(new window)

Max Download Speed Potential

7.2 Mbps

7.2 Mbps

7.2 Mbps

3.6 Mbps

OS Compatibility

2000/XP/Vista/7 & Mac OS X (no Windows NT)

2000/XP/Vista/7 & Mac OS X (no Windows NT)

2000/XP/Vista/7 & Mac OS X (no Windows NT)

2000/XP/Vista/7 & Mac OS X (no Windows NT)

Network Compatibility

HSPDA, UMTS, EDGE, GPRS & GSM Networks Worldwide

HSPDA, UMTS, EDGE, GPRS & GSM Networks Worldwide

HSPDA, UMTS, EDGE, GPRS & GSM Networks Worldwide

HSPDA, UMTS, EDGE, GPRS & GSM Networks Worldwide






Extra Storage

microSD (up to 32 GB)

microSD (up to 16 GB)

microSD (up to 32 GB)

microSD (up to 32 GB)

What Makes It Different?

1st AT&T Broadband Card to have GPS

Looks nice & shiny

Unique Omni-Directional Swivel USB port

Interesting design

There’s not a huge difference between the hardware performance capabilities of each broadband card.They all hop on AT&T 3G network, go about the same speed, work with the same operating systems and cost about the same.

For most, it’ll boil down to the aesthetic look & feel of the broadband card in question.

Retired models:


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So Does AT&T Make The Cut?

Whether good ole’ ma’ bell makes the cut has just as much to do with broadband cards as it does mobile broadband plans, 3G speed & 3G coverage. To summarize:


AT&T 3G Plans

AT&T mobile broadband plans match industry standards of a 5 GB cap for $60 and a lower tier for around half that amount. Nothing spectacular to report. Depending on your usage, 5 GB may or may not be enough.


AT&T Prepaid Mobile Broadband

With 75 MB | $15, 250 MB | $30 and 500 MB | $50 DataConnect prepaid plans, you can have access to AT&T 3G for however long you need it without a contract.


AT&T 3G Speed

AT&T is the “nation’s fastest 3G network” and independent studies back up that claim. Reliability, however, is not their strong suit.


AT&T Coverage

AT&T 3G Coverage is good for urban areas and some interstates. It works best if you live in a city. However, when outside major markets, their mobile broadband coverage comes up severely lacking in comparison to Sprint & Verizon who rank highest for the best 3G coverage.


AT&T Broadband Cards

AT&T only offers USB broadband cards at this time. While refurbished PC Cards and ExpressCards are available from their website, support is being phased out & you definitely don’t wanna be stuck with obsolete technology.


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

    AT&T wireless internet (3G) sucks big time! When it works at all, it’s undependable. I have spent hours just to be able to be logged on long enough to click the “send” button on a text e-mail. Naturally I will be doing business with anybody else as soon as possible. AT&T 3G worked fine until last December. But right now dial up would be a huge improvement! At&T’s 4G doesn’t exist in my area yet. Don’t go with AT&T!!

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