2009 Mobile Broadband Rental Comparison

No Contracts

2 year mobile broadband contracts aren’t for everyone. Neither is having prepaid wireless broadband hotspots all across the country.

Sometimes, you just need to be able to get online for a couple days while you’re at a business conference, on vacation, or RV’ing across the country on a road trip. That’s where mobile broadband rental comes in.

Rather than pay monthly and suffer some kind of fee if you cancel, it may make more sense to rent mobile broadband and pay just for the short time you use it. While there are a number of different providers, the natural question becomes:

So who do I pick?

That’s where we come in.

Sit tight, we’re going to put mobile broadband rental companies through the same rigorous reviews you’ve become accustomed to and give you the winner at the end. To keep things predictably organized, we’ll cover:

1. Plans & Prices
2. Speed & Coverage
3. Broadband Cards & Devices

We’ll be looking at AirCardRental.com, Cellhire.com, Event Radio Rentals, RovAir.com, WiFiRents.com. For convenience, we’ve excluded regional providers since our visitors come from just about every state. Each provider here has some form of delivery to your doorstep via courier.

For plans and prices, we’ll look at the total cost over days used, as well as the average price per day. While the total cost will give you the bottom-line information you need, the average cost per day helps you to see which provider’s plan is cheaper as the days march on. Also, for comparison purposes, we’ll only look at one card per rental (at the cheapest shipping option).

These are domestic (United States) providers. Check here for international mobile broadband.

Contents:
1. AirCardRental
2. Cellhire
3. Event Radio Rentals
4. RovAir
5. WiFiRents
6. Comparison and Summary

 

AirCardRental.com

Plans & Prices

aircardrental

AirCardRental.com is owned by Go Wireless LLC.AirCardRental.com (Go Wireless LLC) advertises rates of $5.66 per day.

After a little more digging within the terms and conditions, we found that you get the rate of $5.66 per day if you’re renting for 30 days or more (i.e. spending about $170 or more).

I’ve got this hunch that most people on vacation or business trips will go for less than a month with mobile broadband rental. So, what would they pay?

I tried reserving a card for one day and got quote for $10 (excluding shipping). $10 is a pretty big difference from $5.66. To make sure I wasn’t seeing things, I tried to rent a broadband card for 6 days instead. This time, I got a quote for $60. Okay, 7 days…$50…

wait a second. 7 days is cheaper than 6 days?

This threw me for logic for a loop. Time to start digging deep. 30 minutes of plugging in mobile broadband rental dates later, here’s what I’ve found:

Each day is billed at $10/day. Strangely enough, on the 7th day (1 week), the price drops $10 from the previous day. While this is probably some sort of discount for longer rentals (1 week, 2 weeks, a month etc), the calculation can confuse the heck out of you. Not exactly consumer friendly.

Take a look at these graphs:

aircardrental-price1

aircardrental-price2

See how if you rent it for 6 days it runs you $60? Look at what happens if you rent for 7 days. You end up paying $50.

How…interesting…

While we’ve definitely got no problems with discounts, just tell us what they are so we can go for them. If I can save $10 by keeping the card for an extra day, you better believe I’ll be doing just that.

On another note, the average person isn’t going to take 30 minutes plugging in numbers to figure out the algorithm being used to bill them. A better explanation of rates is definitely in order here. In addition to this, the site has a feeling of simply being thrown together.

For example, on the order page, there is no delete button to undo your order. After playing around, I found out that checking some boxes and then hitting update was what deleted the order. Again, not exactly customer friendly. More on this in the conclusion.

To their credit, the terms and conditions page has a section for those that ‘don’t like to read legalese’:

* If you break it, scratch it, or otherwise damage it, you bought it.
* The day you receive the equipment counts as the first day of the rental period.
* In lieu of a security deposit, we pre-authorize, but not charge, the full retail value of the Equipment rented on your credit card.
* You have the option to cancel avoid the rental fees, if you notify us before shipping it send an email to [email protected]

 

Speed, Coverage & Broadband Cards

All AirCards (Sierra Wireless Aircards’ 595 PC Card, 597e, Compass 597 USB) run on the Sprint mobile broadband network. That means you’ll be hopping on the largest mobile broadband network with the best overall speeds at the moment. We’ve got a pretty exhaustive review of Sprint mobile broadband here for deeper research.

Overall impression of AirCardRental.com: Cheap but borderline shady.

 

Cellhire.com

Plans & Prices

cellhire
Cellhire.com runs a bit pricey. Not enough info was available to make a buying decision.While Cellhire.com has international mobile broadband rental options, we’re going to focus on the domestic for this review.

Instead of daily rentals, Cellhire.com has flat fees:

1. Weekly Rental | $99.00
2. Monthly Rental | $350.00

In addition to the weekly or monthly rate is a $19.99 setup fee that includes shipping, activation and other associated costs. After factoring this in, the weekly mobile broadband rental works out to be $16.99/day while the monthly rental is about $12.33/day.

While the rates aren’t as good as AirCardRental, they are predictable:

Speed, Coverage & Broadband Cards

It’s hard to say what the speed and coverage would be like. After searching, I couldn’t find any information on which carrier they’ve partnered up with to provide coverage in the United States.

Since there are only a handful of providers (not MVNOs), we could somewhat safely ‘guesstimate’ speed being at least 3G (provided by Sprint, Verizon, Alltel or AT&T). Coverage, however, would vary (depending on the carrier).

As for broadband card, information here is also sketchy. They mention that "Data cards plug directly into the user’s PC slot" which sounds like a PC Broadband Card.

Wireless Broadband Exposed ReadersIf this is the case, that might be a problem as most new and smaller laptops do not have a PC Card slot (see Lesson 4: Pick The Right Broadband Card" of Mobile Broadband Buyer’s Guide for more on this).

Many laptops are now shipping with only ExpressCard and USB slots (smaller netbooks only have USB slots).

Overall impression of Cellhire.com: Pricey…not enough information available for a buying decision.

 

Event Radio Rentals

Plans & Prices

eventradiorentals

Event Radio Rentals has a user-friendly interface. Unfortunately, requesting a quote may turn some away.

Event Radio Rentals has a 1 Gigabyte cap per day (for each seven days of mobile broadband rental). They describe it as generous and we’ve got to admit…it is. Sprint owns the network and they cap it at 5 Gigabytes per month.

Technically, if you rented a broadband card from Event Radio Rentals, you could rack up 28 Gigabytes of use with going over any sort of cap. After that, it’s $0.10/MB (which is still cheaper than Verizon and AT&T’s overage charges).

But how much does it cost?

They don’t say. Rather, you’ve got to request a quote. This may not be such a bad thing if you need an invoice and that kind of paperwork for your company. For personal users, this may be a put-off. At the end of the day, it’s up to you on what you’re comfortable with.

 

Speed, Coverage & Broadband Cards

Event Radio Rentals’ Broadband Cards run on the Sprint mobile broadband network. As we mentioned before, that means you’ll be hopping on the largest mobile broadband network with the best overall speeds at the moment (600-1400 Kbps on average downloading). We’ve got a pretty exhaustive review of Sprint mobile broadband here for deeper research.

The actual cards in stock to choose from are:

1. Sierra Wireless Compass 597
2. Novatel Ovation U727
3. Novatel Merlin S720

(Click any card for the full review)

Side note: They get extra points for full disclosure to the customer.

Overall impression of EventRadioRentals.com: User-friendly. People shopping around may not take the time to request a quote. Quotations seem more business to business salesy.

***Update: EventRadioRentals.com now offers online ordering. Full details will be available in the 2010 Mobile Broadband Rental Comparison

RovAir.com

rovair

RovAir.com is easy on the eyes and the wallet. A nice combination.

RovAir.com has a pretty clean (non-cluttered) site that’s very simple to navigate. If you’re new to mobile broadband rental, then you may find the FAQ section particularly helpful.

Plans & Prices

Rather than weekly or monthly rental quotes, RovAir.com quotes by the day. Like other mobile broadband rental sites, the price per day goes down for longer rental periods. While the home page quotes $5.95 per day, that’s if you’re renting for 30 days or more. If you rent for less than 30 days, it will cost more. As one might expect, shorter rental periods have higher rates. Here’s a visual of what it looks like:

rovair-price2

You’ll probably notice that there are no prices for the first 3 days and every week or so after that.

That’s because there’s a minimum rental period of 3 days and returns can’t be made on a Sunday (like some rent-a-car businesses). Another thing to point out is the the starting price of $21.47. As you can see, the price per day drops gradually. To help you visualize, here’s what the total price looks like for a month:

rovair-price1

Pretty logical stuff. While the price can get up there, mobile broadband rental for a month would still work out cheaper than getting a broadband card and then paying a $200 cancellation fee in addition to the first month’s charges. In all fairness, the sweet spot seems to be two weeks or less.

When reserving, you’ve got two shipping options. You can either get the aircard by 10:30am or by 5:00pm. If you request 10:30am, it will run you $19.95. However, if you need it by 5pm, shipping will cost $14.95.

In addition, you can add theft and loss protection for $1.95/day in the event of (you guessed it), theft and loss. While there is a $25 deductible, its definitely cheaper than the $250 to replace a card if you lose it without the protection.

 

Speed, Coverage & Broadband Cards

RovAir.com carries broadband cards by Sprint as well as Verizon. With the most devices to choose from, you can get PC or USB Broadband Cards:

Sprint 595U
Verizon UM150 USB Modem
Verizon Aircard 595U
Verizon USB 727 by Novatel
Verizon PC5750

Most people will probably end up with USB cards as newer laptops no longer ship with PC Card slots. Naturally, the speed and coverage you get will depend on whether you’re with Sprint or Verizon. Here’s where you can find the full reviews on each:

Sprint Mobile Broadband Speed
Sprint Coverage Area for Mobile Broadband

Verizon Mobile Broadband Speed
Verizon Coverage Area for Mobile Broadband

Overall impression of RovAir.com: Customer friendly. Nice design, easy to navigate with good prices.

 

WiFiRents.com

wifirents

Good design, easy to navigate and educational for new users. If not for how expensive it can be, it could easily be #1.

WiFiRents.com has a user-friendly interface. Written in plain language, it’s easy for a new person to come and find what they need providing they’re already familiar with mobile broadband.

Upon landing on their home page, you’re greeted with a simple graphic that explains how it works (from order, delivery, to return).

Interestingly enough, they almost didn’t get included in this list.

Why?

Well, they’re called WiFiRents.com. While WiFi meets broadband standards, its wireless broadband (separate from mobile broadband). As it turns out, they don’t rent WiFi at all. The only thing they do rent is mobile broadband.

That might cause a bit of confusion.

No doubt the name was chosen for the term ‘WiFi’s popularity. Nevertheless, names are important. They form identities. Enough of the minor nuances for now, let’s get to the meat.

Plans & Prices

WiFiRents.com has three kinds of rates: weekly, monthly and long-term:

Weekly Rates
1 Week $99
2 Weeks $159
3 Weeks $179
4 Weeks $189

Here’s a visual of what the weekly rates would look like:

wifirents-price1

wifirents-price2

Here’s what the pricing over one month of mobile broadband rental looks like. We automatically select the cheaper plan based on how long the card is being used for. First we look at the total cost and then the average cost per day.

Monthly Rates
2 Months $330
3 Months $475
4 Months $625
5 Months $750
6 Months $890

Long-Term Rate (7+ Months)

$125 per Month. (First payment is $425 and includes a $300 deposit).
* $125 monthly rate valid only if equipment is rented for 7 months or more.
* Equipment returned in less than 7 months will be rebilled at our standard monthly rate.
* Monthly payment is automatically billed to your credit card 10 days before each month.

While we can understand weekly and even monthly rentals, long term (7+ months) rentals don’t make a lot of sense. At that point, you should probably just sign a contract with one of the major providers.

For maximum discounts, you normally have to sign a 2 year contract. However, it is possible to walk into a store and get a one year contract. It’ll definitely cost you less that $125/month. As a matter of fact, about half as much ($60/month). For those kinds of plans, check out our 2009 Carrier Comparison.

 

Speed, Coverage & Broadband Cards

As we’ve maintained, the speed and coverage will be dictated by the carrier of the broadband card you have. WiFiRents.com gives you a selection of PC Broadband Cards, ExpressCards or USB Broadband Cards from Verizon or AT&T. To see what their speeds are like, check out the links below:

AT&T Mobile Broadband Speed
AT&T Coverage Area for Mobile Broadband

Verizon Mobile Broadband Speed
Verizon Coverage Area for Mobile Broadband

While they advocate using a USB broadband card for simplicity, if you’ve taken Mobile Broadband Buyer’s Guide, you already know about the possibility of breaking a USB broadband card (like I did mine).

Bad enough when you own the card, but definitely worse when you rent it. You’ll pay full price for it even though you only had it for a couple weeks. Here’s the actual lineup of cards (click on any for the full review):

USB Broadband Cards
Sierra Wireless Aircard 595U (Verizon)
Sierra Wireless Aircard 881U (AT&T)

PC Broadband Cards
Option GT (AT&T)
Audiovox PC5750 (Verizon)

ExpressCards
Option GT Express (AT&T)
Novatel V740 ExpressCard (Verizon)

As a feather in their cap, they also offer 3G routers to share one card with multiple computers. While the price of the rental is how much you actually can buy one for, the notion to offer it was nice.

As a final note, WiFiRents seems to adhere to AT&T and Verizon’s 5 Gigabyte cap policy. However, their overage charge is $0.50/Megabyte (1 cent higher than AT&T). If you recall that horror story from Mobile Broadband Buyer’s Guide, you’ll know this isn’t anything to gloss over. $0.50 MB in overage works out to be $512 per extra Gigabyte used.

Umm yeah…that’s a lot of money.

Overall impression of WiFiRents.com: Nice design and customer friendly but a wee bit on the pricey side. If not for the cost, they could walk home with the trophy.

 

So How Do They All Match Up?

Great question. Just below this table of main features compared side-by-side, also take a look at the graphed pricing:

image

mobile-broadband-rental-prices

Rovair.com’s cost was plotted as an average due to gaps in data (they don’t rent or return on Sundays). Don’t worry, it’s still accurate.

The Best Choice & Worst Choice

At first, I wasn’t going to include worst in this category. Then, upon closer inspection, I noticed some things that really struck a cord. In times where companies who don’t fully disclose their practices end up costing and hurting a lot of people, we simply can’t afford another company that seems shady on any level.

Here comes my rebuke:

There’s something to point out here. If you take a look at AirCardRental.com and then RovAir.com, you’ll notice some striking similarities in the system that runs them. It’s almost as though they were owned by the same company.

Not so.

Based on discussions with one of the founders of RovAir.com, AirCardRental.com copied RovAir’s.com site structure. Normally, we wouldn’t mention something like this but it was too important not to. Especially when it became rather obvious upon closer inspection.

Besides the ethical issues of ‘intellectual plagiarism’, you’ll notice a difference in quality with both sites compared side by side. RovAir.com’s design (logo included) has the quality of professional designing. AirCardRental.com’s logo is for a company ‘Go Wireless LLC’.

The names don’t match.

While this isn’t exactly a requirement, most companies make the logical move of branding their website in entirety. Apple has apple.com, Microsoft has microsoft.com, but Go Wireless LLC has AirCardRental.com?

The second strike comes in full disclosure to the customer. As we mentioned before, the pricing structure of RovAir.com is predictable and fully disclosed. AirCardRental.com throws a surprise your way when you decide to purchase.

While RovAir.com shows *when renting 30 days or more, you have to search for an entirely different page and hope you find within the terms and conditions of AirCardRental, that the $5.66 is when renting 30 days or more.

If you remember the price graphs from above, you’ll see that RovAir.com uses a predictable decreasing price/day calculation. For AirCardRental.com, the price increases gradually for a week, then drops by $2 only to begin increasing for another week before dropping once more. To illustrate how strange it can be, picture this. If you rent a card for 27 days, it costs $210.95 after shipping. If you rent a card for 28 days, it costs $150.95 after shipping. That’s a whole $60 difference for renting the card for an extra day. In other words, by keeping the card longer, it would cost you less. That’s some funky math.

While there are more intricate tell-tale signs, the last big one we’ll mention is the fact that AirCardRental.com (according to Whois.net) was created in April 2008 by "Protected Domain Services". RovAir.com, while founded in October 2007, has been registered since 2003. That’s a 5 year gap. After learning that RovAir built its reservation system from scratch only to have it copied by another company down to the way it looks, it seems pretty unscrupulous on AirCardRental.com’s part. When a company has a 5 year jump on you, you might want to come with a certain originality. Even if you choose to copy them, improve the product or service in some way. Don’t make an artificial price cut of a couple cents that doesn’t hold up if you rent for less than 30 days.

Here’s the long story cut short:rovair-win

RovAir takes the cake based on user-friendly interface, full disclosure on price, and customer focused approach (e.g. their terms and conditions are written in plain English). If AirCardRental.com is going to copy RovAir, they need to copy the best parts.

Not only do they cater to the everyday user, but also larger corporate or business groups. While other competitors had good features, RovAir has them all in one place:

1. Pricing information available and affordable.
2. Simple online ordering.
3. Personalized phone support if needed for sales or customer service (from 8am to 10pm).
4. Wider selection of broadband cards on two reputable networks.
5. Theft and Loss protection.

At mobile-broadband-reviews.com, we only recommend companies that provide a combination of great service, price and value to our readers. Searching the internet for information like this is hard enough as it is. Naturally, as explained in our ‘Ethical Bribe’ we have some sort of vested interest in who we recommend. That however, holds a distant second to the needs of visitors for trust and quality.

To further drive the nail into that coffin, we found RovAir.com to be the best even before the possibility of any joint venture.

Here’s where you get mobile broadband rental via RovAir.com. When you do, leave a comment below and let me know how the service was.

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