I started a new job back in November and it has been a whirlwind.  As part of the transition, I have changed cell phones and added an aircard.  In a future piece, I will discuss my new Palm Pre.

My employer offered the option of three mobile data providers: AT&T, Verizon and Sprint.  Sprint coverage is not good where I live and so I debated between AT&T and Verizon. I eventually chose AT&T because online articles had suggested that AT&T had the fastest network (excluding VZW’s new LTE which had not been announced at the time) and because AT&T’s GSM technology would work better outside of the US.  Both arguments later proved faulty since Verizon offers GSM capable aircards and recently announced high-speed LTE service.

I was excited when my new USB Connect Lightning arrived and was surprised by its large size.  However, I was happy to have the service and that the unit arrived just before a trip.  The initial configuration was painless although I was slightly disappointed about the weak signal in my house.  Signal strength is not great where I live, but my cellphone appeared to handle the situation better.  Regardless, I was looking forward to having Internet access wherever I traveled.

My first opportunity to use the device was in Fort Collins, CO and my initial experience was poor.  The card would not reliably maintain a connection.  There was only one bar of signal and so I assumed that the issue was due to poor coverage.  I had another opportunity to use the aircard as I sat in Denver airport and needed to participate in an important web event.  My confidence was high since the card had a perfect 5 bars of signal, but problems appeared and the card would not maintain a consistent connection.  Both Outlook and my corporate VPN software refusing to function reliably.  General Internet access was unusable as well.  It was incredible frustrating and a sign of things to come.

A call to AT&T support resulted in a new SIM card.  They suggested that this problem was commonly associated with a bad SIM.  A day later, it arrived.  Fortunately, the SIM appeared just in time for another trip and this one had me visiting multiple sites and so I was excited to finally having a working mobile Internet connection.

My next trip included time in Boston, Detroit, Seattle and Houston airports.  (A busy trip for sure!)  I had some initial problems with my new SIM in Boston and spoke with AT&T and they got it configured in the system.  Unfortunately, I had the same connection problem!  Frustrating.  Amazingly the problems continued in Detroit, Seattle and Houston airports.  You might blame a bad card, but the device did work perfectly in a Washington area hotel.

As you can imagine, my frustration was extreme and I called AT&T from Houston and spoke with support.  They answered promptly and were helpful.  However, I almost lost it when they said “We are sorry, but this is a common a problem.  You know, it is due to those iPhone users. You will likely get better results by turning off 3G. A slow connection is often better than an unstable one”  Are you kidding me?  My employer is spending hundreds of dollars a year on this service and AT&T is telling me to turn off high-speed access!  Amazingly, I heard a similar statement from two other AT&T reps.  It was the last straw for me.  I could not in good conscious use a device and/or network with such inconsistent performance.

I continue to roll my eyes when I see AT&T advertise the fastest and most reliable network.  My experience was the opposite on both fronts.  AT&T’s support was helpful and responsive, but if your network is saturated what’s the point?  The incredible thing is how consistent the issues were.  I saw the same problems in 5 different airports. It is too bad because I chose AT&T with an open mind and the company has lost me as a data customer both now and into the future.

I have since exchanged my AT&T device for a Verizon Wireless (non-LTE) one and my initial tests show a dramatic improvement.  I will report back on my new service once I have more experience.  For those of you considering mobile data be very careful and remember that AT&T has a 30-day no questions asked return policy!

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