I previous blogged about my experience with the Wilson Electronics 801247 which is a short range wireless repeater. In my tests, the product worked as advertised, but the short range was somewhat frustrating. I was aware of the limited range upon initial purchase and continue to wonder whether a longer range option (like the 841262) would have been a better choice. However, I always come back to some key factors to justify my decision. Continue reading Wireless Repeater Redux: The option of longer range
One of the challenges in today’s connected world is that we expect Internet and cellphone signals just about everywhere. However, many rural areas are lacking in coverage and I recently embarked on a project to provide wireless service where previously there was little to none.
I frequently visit a summer house on a lake that has minimal cell coverage. When walking outside, you are lucky to get one bar with AT&T while Verizon is a bit stronger, but still of questionable usability. My goal was to find a way to deliver consistent coverage to a desk in the house. Note that the objective was not to provide signal for the entire house, but simply to one location. (This is an important distinction.)
I researched many solutions. The first option was a femtocell. Carriers provide femtocells which provide cellular coverage in houses using voice over IP and existing Internet connections. The idea is a good one, but did not work in my case because the house did not have Internet access. Additionally, the carriers charge around $10 a month for this service which is ridiculous. Clearly, I needed an alternative approach.
The second choice, which I eventually went with, was a wireless repeater. These systems include an outside antenna, inside antenna and an amplifier. The outside antenna receives the carrier’s signal while the amplifier amplifies it and re-broadcasts it through the internal antenna inside the house. Thus, all cell phones inside the house work normally because they connect to what is effectively the outside signal amplified. There are a number of options to choose from including units from Wilson Electronics and Wi-Ex. In general, the reviews of both units were positive. Note that both companies also offer a range of accessories to improve signal quality and internal coverage area.
I previously blogged about my frustrating experiences with an AT&T aircard. It was highly unreliable and caused extreme annoyance due to its ability to consistently connect. Fortunately, I was within the return window and so sent the unit back to AT&T and then switched to a Verizon wireless card. The Verizon experience has been completely different.
My company has not certified Verizon’s new 4G LTE cards which the carrier is heavily promoting. Instead, I received a UMW190 instead. One unexpected benefit of the UMW190 is that it also includes a GSM radio and so will work outside of the US. This is helpful for world travelers, but I do not believe that it supports 3G GSM.
In short, the card has been solid. Everywhere I have tried it whether in congested airports, cities or rural areas, the card has just worked. To be fair, performance can be inconsistent ranging from around 60 Kb/sec to 1,000o Kb/sec. However, this is mobile data and so I had expected as much. Interestingly, I did notice a bit of signal stability issues when I used the card at an event with 400 people, but at its worst, the card still outperformed the lackluster AT&T unit.
I do see a need for LTE. This card is great for general email and web surfing, but is not fast enough for bandwidth intensive activities like streaming video. Since I primarily use the card for work, it meets my requirements quite effectively. However, if I need to download or upload large files, a WiFi or wired connection is a better choice. (To be clear large file uploads/downloads work fine, but are slow.) I cannot help but wonder how much faster everything would go if I had the LTE model.
In summary, if you are considering an air card, do not bother with AT&T. Your best bet is to go with Verizon Wireless. Interestingly, I am potentially getting an Atrix 4G on AT&T which has wireless hotspot functionality and so I may have another opportunity to test AT&T in the future.
Today, AT&T announced the end of unlimited data plans. They currently charge $29.99 for this on the iPad and iPhone. On June 7th, the new plans will be:
|Rate Plan||Amount of data/month||Cost/month||Overage|
Their tethering option is similarly unattractive. It costs $20 on top of the DataPro plan, and worst of all, it uses the same pool of data. Thus your 2GB allotment applies to both your smartphone usage AND tethering!
The current situation with Verizon Wireless is better. They continue to offer unlimited data for $29.99 (Update: “Unlimited” is actually limited to 5GB) , but have signaled that they will be moving away from this in the future. Their new pricing has not been shared, but you can bet that it will be similar to AT&T.
I believe that this is a very troubling trend. The newest smartphone OSes like iPhone, Android and WebOS are designed for constant Internet connectivity and bandwidth will become even more important with new mobile technologies like video conferencing, video streaming and cloud-based applications. Unfortunately by increasing the bandwidth costs, carriers are limiting adoption of these services and stifling innovation.
Raising bandwidth prices is a short-sighted strategy. Data usage will only increase and as it does customers will become more frustrated with rapidly growing bills. Ironically, increased usage presents an opportunity for a carrier to provide a better end user experience with fast wireless data and fair prices. The provider who gets this right has the potential to increase its market share and generate additional profits and revenues. Unfortunately, it appears that these two major players are adopting Jerry Maguire’s mantra of “Show me the money”; however this story is unlikely to have the same happy ending.