Choosing a Broadband Card (Verizon or Sprint)

Dave Zatz —  February 16, 2009

For the better off of ten years, I’ve been a fairly frequent business and pleasure traveler. And staying connected has always been a top priority. Back in the old days, our options were quite limited – usually involving dialup access of some sort. I distinctly recall using a Palm V and modem to quickly check email, without firing up a laptop, while on the road in 1999 or 2000. The situation is much better these days, with numerous and exponentially faster wireless options.

Although both can be great options, for the purpose of this post, we’ll set aside mobile phone tethering and pervasive WiFi services to focus on dedicated data cards. If your (or your employer’s) budget permits, broadband cards (or integrated services) generally provide the quickest and most secure way to hit the Internet from a laptop and run about $60/month. The last few years, I’ve utilized several 3G cards from Verizon, Sprint, and AT&T (plus a 4G Xohm card, pictured above) all over the country.

In choosing a broadband card and service, most modern 3G hardware should be fine. Assuming you can get a good deal (which you usually can), the key factors in making a decision are access, coverage, and contract terms. Of course, if your employer is providing the card, this could be out of your hands. But notice I said 3G. That should immediately rule out T-Mobile with their fledgling 3G network and Clear/Xohm+Sprint with their slowly expanding 4G WiMax network – the footprint is small, and only suitable for folks who rarely need to access data services outside their home area. So that leaves AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint (3G).

I’m a mostly satisfied AT&T iPhone customer these days. But my experiences on their data network haven’t been great – I cannot recommend them. While at Dash, I used an AT&T card. Which worked out just fine for typical web browsing, and the like. However, this was for business use… and our Cisco corporate VPN was blocked. 100% of the time. For a service catering to enterprise customers, I don’t get it. But I do know my card wasn’t very useful. Fast forward a few months, and Kevin Tofel loaned me his Quicksilver review card while at CES. In Vegas, the card was unusable. Granted, the cell networks were probably saturated, but at various times and locations the best I could get was dialup speeds. Back home on the east coast, the Mac OS X connection manager couldn’t even register the card on the network. Total fail. Now my experience could be unique, as Kevin had better luck. But, are you willing to risk a two year contract to find out?

Now we’re down to just Sprint and Verizon. I’ve had a pair of cards from both providers. And there’s not much to say: speeds and coverage were great. Either would be a good bet. It’s probably worth mentioning that Verizon is known for “the network” and Sprint’s customer service hasn’t always been great, if you need to further refine your choice.

And now a word on contracts. Just about all of these require a two year contract. Which can add up. So make sure you’re prepared for a long-term commitment. Additionally, “Unlimited” never really means unlimited access. The current industry standard appears to be a 5GB cap on data usage per month. I’m not sure how strict the carriers are in enforcing that number – I know I’ve gone over without hearing from anyone. However, it’s there and you need to be aware of it. In fact, I’ve got a great new example today. The Boost Mobile (Sprint) brochure I photographed (below) advertises “Unlimited” cellphone service… yet prohibits “abnormally high numbers of calls”, “calls of unusually long duration”, and “unusually high numbers of messages.” How, exactly, does one quantify that?

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15 responses to Choosing a Broadband Card (Verizon or Sprint)

  1. Just as an FYI, I’ll hit tethering at another time. But it’s also been a great tool while between data cards. I’ve used a Blackberry 8700 and Sprint 6700, plus my Blackjack 2 is capable. Service is often free if you can figure it out on your own, although the carriers may also try to charge you for access.

    Lastly, Melissa is a T-Mobile customer and they’ve lowered HotSpot pricing to only $10/month – which I frequently use at Starbucks and various hotels or airports. In fact, there’s now some cross pollination (aka roaming) available on Boingo and AT&T’s networks. Giving me great coverage all over the place. However, when surfing a public access point you need to keep security in mind. Make sure you’ve got an SSL connection, usually represented by a little lock in your browser, when dealing in confidential data. Assume most of your email and IM data and credentials are sent in the clear. Basically, be careful.

  2. Odd that CiscoVPN doesn’t work on AT&T card when it is supported fine on the iPhone.

  3. Yep, odd on several levels. If it had been just me, I would have suspected it was something that needed fixing on my end. Maybe it was this line of cards (AirCard 875U), the AT&T corporate account or service level, the configuration of the VPN, something that’s since been fixed? Who knows… But with a two year contract at play, my horrible Quicksilver experience, and better coverage with the others, I wouldn’t risk it. I’m leaning towards Sprint for my next card – the current SERO plan brings the monthly rate down to $50.

  4. I’m pretty *sick* of the double talk around unlimited but totally limited access. Need a good court decision banning double speak in contract vs. advertising and laying the some serous smack down on behalf of consumers, well everywhere. It’s reach a pretty ridiculous level, the new sprint simple everything plans are a great example of this kind of nonsense that just won’t let up.

  5. Tivoboy says (said to the sound of “Duffman!”)

    anyway, Tivoboy says that he has been a HEAVY user of Sprints network, via various phones (HTC6700, 6800, touchpro) and their USB dongles for about 2+ years, mostly in SFO bay area, LA, Seattle, in airport, NYC, Washington DC. Palm Beach and other spots and find the signal good to GREAT in most of those places.

    I have been tethering on a Sero plan for the past 3 years now, and nobody has never said nothing and this includes tethering to a laptop to the laptop WIFI to MULTIPLE additional colleagues and clients in most major metro cities. Also in Peurto Rico for a conference. I haven’t tracked my usage, but in NO WAY is it LESS THAN 5GB a month in any given month.

    VOIP, LOTS AND LOTS of 700kps slingboxing, LOTS AND LOTS of movie downloads, itunes, etc. LOTS AND LOTS of grabbing ISO’s from home that I need on location, and video conferencing for HOURS AND HOURS with peers around the globe. I’d like to actually SEE what my BW usage is on a monthly basis, maybe it is somewhere on the bill somewhere.

  6. “I photographed (below) advertises “Unlimited” cellphone service… yet prohibits “abnormally high numbers of calls”, “calls of unusually long duration”, and “unusually high numbers of messages.” How does one quantify that?”

    Ummm…False advertising? In the strictest FTC sanctions and class-action-law-suit-by-Consumers sense?

    “…False advertising or deceptive advertising is the use of false or misleading statements in advertising. As advertising has the potential to persuade people into commercial transactions that they might otherwise avoid, many governments around the world use regulations to control false, deceptive or misleading advertising. Truth in labeling refers to essentially the same concept, that customers have the right to know what they are buying, and that all necessary information should be on the label.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_advertising

  7. We need to go after these companies that are all deploying Enron type tactics in business. 5Gb data caps, what a joke . My bill cycle just started and checked usage from a different connection with 5 mb already used without plugging the modem in. Who is using my connection without my knowledge?

  8. Sprint’s data network is the best, I have tested it all over US, don’t go by Verizon commercials on TV.

  9. Would have been nice to have seen the author actually perform a real test…speed, reliability, urban areas, rural areas, etc. Sprint usually comes out on top in the road tests.

  10. It’d also be nice to see less astroturfing in my comments. Sal, WMark, and kmo727 originate from the same Sprint network address. Hm, awfully coincidental isn’t it? That IP is now banned. Try again from Kinkos, Starbucks, or your home. And feel free to disclose your employer and allegiances.

    I specifically did not list speed as a criteria. Unless you’re downloading large video files or DVD ISOs, any 3G speeds will be sufficient for typical email, web surfing, Hulu, and even Slingbox. As far as reliability, I’ve had a pair of cards from each of the three main providers. In my experience, Sprint and Verizon were the most reliable with the broadest coverage. Granted, my business and pleasure trips rarely take me to rural locations.

  11. I can only comment of Sprint’s network; so far no complaints with the service. I have been using it for over 2 years and the price was too good to pass up ($50/mo). I used the Sierra Wireless 595 and 597 without any issues. I don’t like the software it comes with or the fact that if I disconnect I have to restart my computer to get a connection. Dunno if it is Sprint of a Vista pain, otherwise great speed and coverage (Kansas City, Wichita, Chicago, DC, New York, Orlando, Miami, Atlanta, Columbus).

    Now that they have put a cap on my service I have limited my NetFlix steaming just to be safe. *long sigh*

    On a side note, as mentioned, the customer service is less than stellar, so the best way to be happy with Sprint is not to have to call them for anything.

  12. Hi Dave –

    Thanks for contacting me and Sprint about our employees’ comments on your blog.

    It’s important for your readers to know that Sprint doesn’t condone astroturfing nor do we practice it.

    As a company, we have a pretty progressive policy when it comes to online behavior. We ask that employees not use company equipment or time when they are blogging or participating in blogs. (That’s left to people like me who work on our Corporate Communications team.)

    Additionally, we ask that if employees choose to blog/comment about Sprint on their own time, that they disclose that they work for Sprint and their views are personal ones, not Sprint’s.

    While you and I’ve discussed this, I wanted to make sure your readers knew of our approach to situations like this.

    Finally, if anyone has a question about this policy or Sprint, they are welcome to contact me and I will try to help.

    Sincerely,

    John Taylor / john.b.taylor@sprint.com
    Public Affairs
    Sprint Nextel Corp.

  13. Thanks, John. As I mentioned to you – we LOVE employee contributions and wish there were more. We just want it out in the open who folks represent for obvious reasons.

  14. Not a Sprint employee, but I am a Sprint fanboy. My 6700, Mogul, and now Touch Pro have been my primary home modem for over two years now – tethering using WMWiFiRouter is so incredibly easy that it’s almost silly. Speeds are such that I can easily watch YouTube videos and the like. Of course, I guess it probably helps that I have 1900 MHz repeater installed in my house… but it was fairly cheap and worth every penny.

  15. Astroturfing is still alive and well on this post. Just zapped what looks to be another employee contribution. Like I said, we welcome comments from all on ZNF. I’m totally fine if you want to bash your competitors or bitch about the industry. But please identify your employer or I’m sending you to the spam queue. And with that, I’m closing comments on this topic.