Friday, August 07, 2009

Cell Phone Plans With Aircards

Wireless modem aircards are the way you free yourself from the tyranny of the WiFi hotspot. With an aircard, your laptop computer suddenly becomes a mobile computer. But how do these work and what types of service plans do you need to use aircards?

An aircard is basically a digital two-way radio. But it’s a special kind of radio. Its signals are digital computer data rather than telephone calls.

But aren’t aircards set up to run on cell phone networks? Indeed they are. Right now the vast majority of wireless modem aircards are designed to meet one of the two major cellular broadband standards. Those are EVDO for Sprint and Verizon Wireless or EDGE and HSPA for AT&T and T-Mobile. There is another standard called WiMAX that is just being deployed in major cities by Clearwire.

As you may have surmised, you need a cellular service plan to use the cellular network. For an aircard, you buy what is called a data plan. That’s different from the voice plan that you would order for normal cell phone operations. The data plan gives you full time access to the provider’s nationwide data network. It’s just like having DSL or Cable broadband but without the wires.

There often is one limitation. Because the cellular networks have limited wireless capability, you are limited to a certain number of Gigabytes downloaded per month. For most mobile users the 5 GB limit won’t be a limitation. But if you expect to be downloading a lot of video, especially HD video, you could exceed your monthly limit and have to pay overage charges.

Cellular broadband is not intended to replace a wireline BB connection. It’s really just to let you have access to the Internet while you are on the go. Many business users buy aircards so that they can take their laptops into a customer’s office and make a presentation or enter an order. They can also sit in a parking lot, airport, or restaurant that doesn’t offer free WiFi and be on the Internet.

Most of the newer wireless modem aircards look like USB flash memories and simply plug into your computer using an open USB port. Other models have PCMCIA or ExpressCard connectors. If you order one of these, be sure your computer has compatible ports.

Some devices come with aircards already built-in. These include the new netbooks, which are very small notebook computers designed to run on a particular cellular network or WiFi. The more advanced cell phones or smartphones also give you Internet access without having to buy a separate aircard. That circuitry is included in the radio within the phone. You will have to buy a data plan as well as a voice plan to use your cell phone for both talking and surfing the Web.

What are the hottest cell phone deals available right now, including free cell phones? Use the Cell Phone Plan Finder to check out the top phones and associated wireless service plans.

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