Friday, January 04, 2013

Alternative Rural Broadband Solution

Anyone who lives or works out in the boonies faces the frustration of limited bandwidth options. All of the good stuff is in town. Well, maybe not all. There is a way that many rural broadband users can stay connected without breaking the bank or waiting for a national buildout that could take years.

Check your 3G broadband options now...Does this involve DSL or Cable broadband? Not much chance of that. Neither the telephone companies nor the cable companies venture far from the city limits with their digital services. Yes, you can get analog phone service anywhere thanks to a longstanding government policy of universal telephone service. These lines will support dial-up Internet access at 56 Kbps max speed. Actually, there are still a lot of people on dial-up simply because they don’t need much more than email and occasional web browsing. If you are still using dial-up, how would you like much faster broadband service for the same price or less?

That sounds like a pretty tall order, but there really is such a solution. It’s available thanks to the massive nationwide construction of the cellular phone network. Originally for voice only, broadband data transmission has been added to nearly all the cell towers. If all you do is talk on a cell phone, you may be unaware that broadband Internet is streaming from the same towers. All you need is a device to access it.

What I’m suggesting is using wireless 3G Internet as your rural broadband solution. It’s available now, it’s priced at about the same level as DSL or cable broadband services, and it penetrates many rural areas. We’ve become so accustomed to thinking of Internet access through wires, that it’s easy to overlook wireless solutions.

So, can you use your cell phone out in the country where you’d like to be able to also use your computer? Yes? Then you’re probably in luck. Granted, voice service may be available in dead spots for broadband. It’s not a sure indicator that making phone calls means that high speed Internet will also work. The more bars, the better. Sometimes you can connect for data, but at a much lower 2G speed that is more like dial-up. You need a decent signal to support 3G broadband speeds.

Those with smartphones can tell pretty quickly how well they can get broadband service where they want to. There are apps for the iPhone and Android models that run speed tests on your data service and tell you how fast your download and upload speeds are. If you are getting 1 Mbps or better, you’re doing well.

Even faster speeds are available with 4G cellular broadband services. Many towers have been upgraded to support the high speed 4G LTE services that can be 10x the speed of 3G. This is pretty spotty to date. Some areas have excellent 4G service. Others have none at all.

How do you connect? One way is to get a tethering plan for your smartphone and use that to power your desktop, laptop and tablet devices. This saves you the cost of a separate service, but you’ll generally have to commit to the largest and most expensive data plans to get the tethering options.

Another option is to go with a no contract service and a USB modem or mobile hotspot. These plans start at $9.99 a month for a small 200 MB plan. That’s half what you pay for a lot of dial-up and it runs faster. It’s good enough for email and occasional surfing. Heavier users can trade up to larger plans of 500 MB, 1 GB or 5GB.

One thing you need to know about cellular plans is that they aren’t really suitable for streaming movies or download large software updates. There just isn’t enough capacity in the system to handle this kind of demand on the airwaves. Consequently, you will be limited to a maximum of 5 GB or so for the month as compared to 250 GB for a popular cable broadband service.

The other thing to know is that even 3G coverage isn’t universal. Way out in the boonies there really is no service for any type of cellular service. However, there are a lot more towers than there used to be and good coverage in exurb areas around major cities. You need to check the coverage maps for any service you intend to purchase to make sure there is solid 3G or 4G signal where you want to have broadband.

Are you interested in a no contract 3G broadband service with plans starting at $9.99 a month? See if this option can provide your connection needs for a rural broadband solution.

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