If you use satellite internet, you already know that it is one of the most popular choices for internet access for folks who don't have access to fixed-line broadband like cable or DSL and full-time RVers. What many satellite users don't know is that there is another high-speed internet option that for many users is easier to use, more reliable, more affordable, and faster than satellite: 3G mobile broadband!
What is "Mobile Broadband"?
Mobile broadband works similarly to the way your cell phone operates in that it relies on signal from a wireless tower rather than a physical connection like a phone line or cable. A mobile broadband modem (often referred to as an "aircard") receives the signal and allows you to connect to the internet completely wirelessly - it's as simple as that! You can take the internet with you and surf the web in your car, on the train, in the airport, at a convention, on the road in your RV... you can even share the connection with multiple computers using a 3G router, just like you can with any broadband connection.
Of course, like your cell phone, the modem alone doesn't provide internet access - you must subscribe to the service from an 3G mobile broadband provider. Verizon, Sprint, and AT&T all offer 3G mobile broadband for about $60/month with a 5GB allowance.
Continue reading below to find out more about how mobile broadband compares to your satellite internet service!
Tell me more! Mobile Broadband FAQ's:
- What does "3G" mean?
- "3G" is simply a generic term indicating the “third generation” of standards for mobile networking.
- How fast is 3G mobile broadband?
- Mobile broadband users typically see internet speeds of approximately 600-1400kbps download (with bursts up to 2000kbps) and 500-800kbps upload where 3G coverage is available.
- Who offers 3G mobile broadband?
- The three major mobile broadband carriers in the US are Sprint, Verizon Wireless, and AT&T. All three offer service at about the same price ($60/month for 5GB of usage with overage charges thereafter). The most important factor in selecting a mobile broadband carrier is "who has coverage where I need it?" No provider has coverage "everywhere", so it is very important to check coverage where YOU want to use it before making your decision. You can read more about the differences between the carriers here: Sprint vs Verizon vs AT&T: Which is "Better"?
- How much does the service cost?
- Mobile Broadband from Sprint, Verizon, and AT&T is about $60/month with a 5GB allowance. All three carriers charge per-megabyte overage fees if you exceed 5GB (few users exceed 5GB - see more below). You'll also need an aircard, which is typically very affordable when you are signing up for new service (often free!)
- Do I need to buy any expensive equipment?
- The ONLY equipment you need to use mobile broadband is an aircard. When you sign a service contract with your provider, the aircards are very affordable - zero to $100. If you choose to sign up for service without a contract, aircards are more expensive - $200-$300.
- There are other optional items that many mobile broadband users choose to use, such as routers to share the connection with multiple computers and antennas to improve the signal, but only the aircard and monthly service are required to use mobile broadband!
- Is mobile broadband service UNLIMITED?
- No. All of the major carriers impose a monthly 5GB allowance and charge overage fees if you exceed 5GB. For most users, 5GB is plenty of data and overage fees are rarely an issue. If your web habits include mainly emailing, web surfing, and the occassional YouTube video, it is very unlikely that you will have a problem with the 5GB allowance. For more on what you can do with 5GB, click here.
- Does mobile broadband have a FAP (Fair Access Policy)?
- No. Most satellite providers enforce a "FAP" wherein your speeds are throttled (slowed way down) if you download more than a certain amount of data in a given period of time. Mobile broadband providers to NOT have a FAP and your speeds will not get throttled, regardless of how much you use the service. However, if you exceed your 5GB allowance over the course of a month, they will charge overage fees. For most users, 5GB is plenty of data and going over is rarely an issue.
- Will I be able to use mobile broadband everywhere?
- No carrier has coverage "everywhere". Sprint and Verizon Wireless offer very comprehensive 3G coverage within the US; AT&T has good 3G coverage in major metropolitan areas but less coverage in more remote areas. To compare coverage by zip code, click here.
- When 3G coverage is not available, that does NOT mean that you won't be able to get online! All three mobile broadband carriers also operate 2G ("second generation") networks that are available just about everywhere they offer cell phone service, and your aircard will automatically connect to your carrier's 2G network if you leave a 3G area. 2G is not nearly as fast as 3G - just a bit faster than dial-up - but is a huge boon to travelers who occasionally find themselves in remote areas. Between your carrier's 3G and 2G networks, you'll be able to get online just about everywhere that provider has cell phone service.
- Do trees and weather affect performance? Do I need a clear view of the sky?
- Unlike satellite internet, mobile broadband service is not dependent on a clear view of the sky and weather is not a factor. If you have a cell phone signal, you can connect to mobile broadband - even if its stormy, you're indoors, and have a yard full of trees.
- How does the "lag" compare to satellite? Is gaming and VOIP possible with mobile broadband?
- 3G mobile broadband technology allows for MUCH less lag than satellite, meaning applications that require real-time responses - like online gaming and VOIP - perform much better than they do on a satellite connection. Think of it this way: with satellite internet, all data requests must travel from your computer all the way to the satellite (thousands of miles away) and back; with mobile broadband, the communication is with a cellular tower that is likely just a few miles away.
- How difficult is it to set up and use?
- Mobile broadband is incredibly easy to set up and use. Once you have your aircard and are signed up for service, you'll simply install your provider's connection manager software, connect your aircard to your computer and get online!
- Unlike satellite internet, there is no installation. You can use your mobile broadband device on just about any computer and you can use it anywhere you have signal.
- Can I use mobile broadband on more than one computer?
- Mobile broadband modems/aircards are made to provide internet access to just one computer (whatever computer it is connected to). However, with a 3G router, you can share your connection with multiple computers and devices! 3G routers work just like standard routers you may have used for DSL/Cable/Satellite, but have the unique ability to support cellular modems as their source of internet connectivity. With a router that supports your cellular device, you can plug your USB modem, ExpressCard, PCMCIA card, or even your tether-capable cell phone into the router and instantly create your own local area/WiFi network!
- Do I have to sign a long-term commitment with the mobile broadband provider?
- Most mobile broadband providers do require a 2-year contract, just like your cell phone. Some carriers allow you to go "month to month" as long as you purchase the aircard at full retail price ($200-$300; aircards are much cheaper or even free when you sign up for a 2-year contract).
- If you only need mobile broadband occasionally and don't want to sign a contract, you may want to consider tethering. Tethering, or "phone as modem", refers to using your phone as a 3G modem instead of an aircard. Carriers do charge a fee for tethering, but it is typically very affordable and you do NOT have to sign a contract - you can turn the tethering feature on and off as you need it. For more information about tethering, which phones support it, how much it costs, and other pro's and con's, read this article: Tethering: Get the Facts!
Need more information? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 866-3GSTORE, extension 728 ("SAT"), and the Mobile Broadband Experts will be happy to help!