Monday, March 24, 2008

Novatel's Brilliant Mobile In-Ovation

It looks like a USB memory drive, and it is. But look closer. Thumb drives don't have pop-up antennas. This one does. That's because the Novatel Ovation U727 is more than solid state memory. It's also a cellular broadband modem and a GPS receiver. Call it the "Swiss Army Knife" of mobile technology. Or call it the upgrade your notebook computer really needs. This Novatel product is three upgrades in one.

The primary function of this broadband card is to connect you to the data networks of either Sprint or Verizon. You'll need the version that is enabled for the carrier you want. Both feature downloads at the highest cellular speed currently available. That's EV-DO Rev A with downloads up to 3.1 Mbps and uploads to 1.8 Mbps. If the base station you are nearest isn't upgraded to Rev A yet, standard EV-DO Rev 0 will give you 2.4 Mbps download and 153 Kbps upload. Those are burst ratings. Your actual connection speed will probably be less.

Both of these cellular network data standards will allow you to roam free of the home office or WiFi hotspots. The original standard was meant to emulate a DSL connection for email and Web browsing. The new EV-DO Rev A speeds downloads a bit, but the big change is to the upload bandwidth. 153 Kbps is pretty marginal for things like video conferencing or file uploading. The 1.8 Mbps burst capability is more suited to real-time applications.

What happens if you are out in the boonies? If you can get cellular coverage at all, then you'll be able to at least access 1xRTT, the oldest CDMA cellular data standard and nearly universally installed in tower base stations. The performance is more like dial-up, around 50 Kbps. But at least you can stay connected way, way out there where coffee shops with WiFi are few and far between.

A feature of the Ovation U727 is that it connects to your PC via a USB port. The standard for cellular broadband cards has been the PCMCIA card slot. Those aren't universally available on notebook computers any more, but USB ports are truly ubiquitous. I imagine that the USB connection and memory stick form factor is what gave designers the idea to have this device do double duty as a removable solid state hard drive. To make use of this feature, you'll need to buy microSD card up to 4 GB maximum capacity. Plug in that little card like you would on a cell phone and you've got a thumb drive.

The third capability built into the Novatel Ovation U727 is a GPS receiver. Lots of of wireless productivity devices and common cell phones now include built-in GPS receivers. They were put there to aid location in emergency calls, but have been put into service as navigation systems and for mapping. Adding this card to your PC gives you the ability to use location-based services.

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