Since T-Mobile was a late entrant into the 3G battles, it’s only natural to check and see if they have gotten their network ready for real road warriors. Before we get to the answer, let’s look at a few basic facts.
Due to some legal issues T-Mobile was late getting into the 3G game, but they are catching up quickly. At last count they had 3G in about 150 cities, and were doing about a city every day and a half. They want to double their 3G coverage area in 2009. That’s playing catch up pretty well!
T-Mobile Coverage Areas
Their coverage map shows that they have a strong signal in most of the major U. S. cities and along the interstate highways, but their map can’t quite keep up the same pace that they’re rolling out new market areas. It’s best to check locally rather than relying on an ever-changing national map. They don’t have the coverage of Verizon, for example, but they are working pretty hard to try and even the score. If you already have T-Mobile 3G, your reception may be fantastic until you hop on a plane to Smalltown, USA. In that case, if T-Mobile 3G is not available, you may have the choice of jumping on a HotSpot WiFi network, EDGE, or GRPS. How fast it will be just depends on the network to which you’re connecting. To qualify your regular destinations, just check out the T-Mobile coverage map.
Mobile Broadband Card
T-Mobile only has one mobile broadband card available right now, so you don’t have a hard decision-making process between PC Cards, ExpressCards, and USB Broadband Cards. Or whether to get one for your MacIntosh–it only works in Windows right now, with an OS X version ‘coming soon.’
The card, the webConnect USB, is the only T-Mobile AirCard/Broadband card currently on the market. T-Mobile’s webConnect USB Laptop Stick is about the length and half the width of a credit card, has a swivel-hinge USB design, and comes in a nice green and black finish. Since it is a swivel-hinge design, it’s easier to keep it from getting damaged in tight places while you’re traveling. It’s $49.99 with a $200 instant rebate with a two-year plan or $249.99 without a commitment.
It compares, as far as price and abilities, with the AT&T Sierra Wireless USBConnect Mercury, which is free after a $100 mail-in rebate and a two-year data plan (or $249.99 without a commitment), the Sprint Sierra Wireless 598U, $29.99 after a $50 mail-in rebate and a two-year data plan ($249.99 without a commitment), and the Verizon Wireless UTStarcom UM175, $29.99 with a two-year data plan ($199.99 without a commitment).
Custom made for T-Mobile, the stick’s outstanding feature is its ability to automatically switch between the best 3G, WiFi, EDGE or GPRS network (based on speed and connection) without any action by the user. If you would rather have an uninterrupted connection, there will probably be an option to disable the automatic switching function. Since most users aren’t usually moving while using a laptop, it really should not switch often enough to have an impact on you.
The software comes pre-loaded on the stick for simple self-installation when you first insert it into your PC. Another great feature is a microSDHC slot for up to eight gigabytes of extra storage. This is especially helpful if you use the card a lot or as your only connection (it’s always plugged in), since it will free up a USB port you might have used on a thumb drive.
The webConnect USB Laptop Stick is $50 with a two-year contract with T-Mobile; if you want one, you’d better hurry–they seem to be popping in and out of stock a lot–because of the high demand.
If you’re interested in international roaming, T-Mobile and AT&T are the only two of the major carriers who also operate on GSM frequencies, the dominant technology outside the U. S. It’s so dominant that only a few countries outside of North America have any discernible CDMA coverage. However, if you’re going to be traveling overseas, it makes more sense, and cents, to buy a prepaid data card from a local carrier. For example, in Germany you can hook up with O2 for a month of unlimited usage for only $96; the alternative is a $20 per megabyte roaming charge!
Speaking of money, the T-Mobile data plan will cost you about $60 a month and has a 5GB per month cap. After that it starts to get pricey; this should not be your primary ISP. Use this for backup and traveling only. To find out about your local coverage, simply click here.
Road Warrior Ready?
So we finally come to the question: is T-Mobile coverage really ‘road warrior’ ready? Yes and no. We only say no if you have to travel off the beaten path, say Paris, Tennessee, on a regular basis; then it can get hairy and you’re probably better off with Verizon or even AT&T.
The answer is yes, if you know that T-Mobile is available where you’re going, especially if you have certain places that you go on a regular basis like Memphis, LA, and Chicago. You’ll be able to hop on the T-Mobile 3G network in any of these locations and do fine. T-Mobile is catching up with the 3G coverage at a fantastic pace, so you should feel comfortable traveling to most major cities in the U. S. now with your T-Mobile 3G USB stick and your laptop.