2008 Broadband Card Comparison

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All this talk of aircards and broadband cards is like trying to tell the difference between cabbage and lettuce blind-folded.

Seriously.

How about concise quality facts and more information only if you ask for it eh?

I know how you feel. I’ve tried Googling ‘compare aircards’ and ‘aircard reviews’ too. Tough stuff to find.

*N.B. If this stuff is like a foreign language to you, I suggest reading going through the “Wireless Broadband Exposed” mini-course.

That why I list all the aircards on the market .

There are 3 categories (USB, ExpressCards and PC Broadband Cards). Each gets compared side-by-side. See which card fits your needs based on:

1. Network
2. Speed
3. Operating System Compatibility
4. Extra Features
5. Price

To sweeten the honey even further, you can click on any card to read the full review and technical specifications. Let’s hop right to it.

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Network & Speed

There are more USB broadband cards out there than any other type. Naturally, Verizon and Sprint have the most as they’ve been in the mobile broadband game longer. The capabilities of the cards are pretty much on par across the board with the exception of AT&T.
Being the only GSM gang in town, they don’t get to work up roaming agreements with other carriers. While that is a valid excuse for their coverage being less than Sprint, Verizon’s and Alltel, they are rapidly expanding and upgrading. You can thank the iPhone for that one.
Thanks to their HSPA technology they’ve got the potential for 7.2 Mbps download speeds. That’s literally a cable connection on the go. At this point, its the only 3G technology that could give WiMAX a run for it’s money until the other carriers upgrade to EVDO Rev. B or LTE.

Compatibility & Extra Features

When it comes to operating system support, most USB cards work with Windows and Macintosh. While some may not advertise native support for Linux, there are those that explicitly market their compatibility with pretty much all. For more details on specific cards, check out the individual broadband card reviews.

Extra features like expandable storage and GPS are what set USB broadband cards apart from each other. About half of the cards featured here have microSD slots for expandable storage. Pretty neat since they also work with most cell phones. While the U680 has built-in flash storage, it’s only 64MB…that’s about one music album. No good.

The cards with expandable microSD slots support up to 8GB. That’s more than you’ll ever need for all you documents.
GPS is supported almost exclusively by Sprint mobile broadband cards.

While a few Verizon cards support it, Sprint has long included location based services at no extra charge.

Definitely a plus for the savvy traveler looking to find the closest coffee shop, rental car or hotel. Nothing like not worrying about the basics after a long flight or drive.

Price

*Cough…make $100…*cough. Most of the broadband cards here are free. For the ones that aren’t, you can make money from the rebates. The companies don’t mind taking a hit if that means you’ll be a paying customer for 2 years. It’s pretty much a free for all.

And The Winner Is…UTStarcom UM175 (Alltel)
The
Alltel UTStarcom UM175 takes the cake here. A lot of USB broadband cards don’t have an adjustable port. The UM175 conveniently swivels at different angles. That’s excellent for the mobile knowledge worker who might be cooped up in a car or other tight spaces. No one needs a 3 year old kid running through the airport to turn your card into a javelin.
While some may prefer the GPS and extra storage of the Novatel Ovation U727, the UM175 also puts money in your pocket and keeps your laptop safe in small space.
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Network & Speed
Again Sprint and Verizon have the most cards. The capability of those cards are about the same with the exception of AT&T as we mentioned before. GSM based technology has more potential for upgrades than CDMA based tech.

Compatibility & Extra Features
No Linux SupportOperating system support is the same across the board. All the cards support Windows XP, Vista and Mac’s. No word on Linux. That has a lot to do with the design of the ExpressCards themselves. More on the tick-tock behind mobile broadband cards in “Wireless Broadband Exposed“.

While none of the cards have extra storage, Novatel EX720 and Sierra Wireless AC597E have GPS. Does that make them better than the other cards? Yes. Yes it does. When you’ve got the only thing going for you, it sure does.

Price

Again all the cards are free or put money in your bank account. Rebates will get you up to $50 for the Sierra Wireless AC597E Aircard with Sprint or the Kyocera KPC680 through Alltel.

And The Winner Is…
Sierra Wireless AC597 ExpressCard PC/Mac Card
The Sierra Wireless AC597E wins out thanks to features. In addition to that, Sierra Wireless throws in some goodies like:

  • – Patent-pending antenna design that maximizes data performance for the fastest speed, strongest signal, and most stable connection possible
  • – High performance GPS for a quick and accurate fix on your location.
  • : Patent-pending architecture for data traffic management to ensure a consistent mobile broadband experience
  • – Plug-and-play software installation, without a CD.
  • : Advanced power control to reduce PC battery drain and optimize performance under variable network conditions
  • : Hardware design that exceeds industry specifications to deal with the rough-and-tumble reality of life on the road
    The Sierra Wireless logo, Heart of the Wireless Machine and AirCard are registered trademarks of Sierra Wireless.
    Empowered, Compass and AirLink are trademarks of Sierra Wireless.
    The runner up is the Kyocera KPC680. After all, how can you knock a card that gives you enough cash to fill up a Honda Accord? You’ve got to mention that.
    Perhaps the Option GT Ultra will stand a better chance when AT&T maxes out that theoretical 7.2 Mbps download speed.
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    Network & Speed

    There’s a pretty even mix and matchup of providers here. Everybody’s got at least one card in here. There is one definite lesson to learn here. Not all network speeds were created equal. The slowest of the bunch is T-Mobile. They are building a faster 3G network but have no cards at the moment to run on it.
    Next up in speed is AT&T. While some reports state that they are faster, the maximum speed they’re capable of has not yet surpassed EVDO Rev. A networks. Sprint, Verizon and Alltel lead the field in terms of speed. They’ll have some competition in the coming months as AT&T continues its aggressive expansion.

    Compatibility & Extra Features

    Bill Gates & Steve JobsOperating system support varies a bit. You’re good to go if you’re hanging out in the Bill Gates crowd. If you’re chillin with Steve Jobs however, you’ll need to be a bit pickier. More than half the cards support Mac’s though so no big worries. If you do decide on the Sony Ericsson GC89, you’ll have to go through a third party to get the drivers for Mac support. Ironically, it’s also the only card here with extra features.
    It connects to T-Mobile Hotspots via WiFi at no extra charge. That could prove pretty handy for Starbucks faithfuls. Outside of that, it might not be helpful enough to make up for the slower EDGE network speeds.

    Price

    There some serious differences in prices here. Everything from $110 to making $100. The obviously clear winner here is Alltel. Why would anyone pay $110 for T-Mobile’s card you ask? Well, there service is $10 cheaper each month. Over the length of the contract, that would be $240 in savings. So, how do you like your savings? Over time or all at once?

    And The Winner Is…AT&T Sierra Wireless 881 Aircard
    The Sierra Wireless 881 AirCard. It’s the only card here with GPS (whether you can use it for free with AT&T is another thing). With wide compatibility support and being free, its good stuff.
    A good runner up is the Huawei EC360. . It’s pretty much a bare bones card that’ll put $100 in your pocket.
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    Going for the GoldSo to sum it all up, the best card from each category was:

    Alltel UTStarcom UM175Best USB Broadband Card
    UTStarcom UM175 (Alltel)

    Sierra Wireless AC597EBest ExpressCard
    Sierra Wireless AC597 ExpressCard PC/Mac Card

    Sierra Wireless 881 AirCard – Best PC Broadband Card
    AT&T Sierra Wireless 881 Aircard

    From here, you’ve just got to pick the card that fits you the best. How might you do that?

    Well, a 4-part E-Course might help. There’s an entire lesson dedicated to just selecting the right card.

    If you already know which card you want, then check out The Top 4 Places to Get An Aircard.

    Related Reading:

    The Top 4 Places to Get An Aircard
    Wireless Broadband Service Comparison
    What is an Aircard?
    What is Mobile Broadband? Tech Talk Demystified
    International Wireless Broadband – AT&T Tops the Chart

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