Entry Level Plans
Top Tier Plans
for two devices
And the winner is...
Unfortunately, when it comes to mobile broadband, there's no clear cut winner. We know AT&T Wireless offers the most expensive plans (both entry level and top tier), but depending on where you live, the other carriers may or may not offer the best service for your needs. For instance, Sprint's XOHM WiMax plan is clearly the winner in price and data allowance (there's no data cap), but currently, it's only offered in Baltimore, MD and Philadelphia, PA. The network is expected to spread to Washington D.C. and Chicago, IL, but that still leaves a huge portion of the country uncovered. For broader coverage, your best bets are Verizon and Sprint's EV-DO-based mobile broadband network. (Just make sure their networks cover the areas you'll be traveling to.)
Things to watch out for
Before you sign up for any plan, there are some hardware requirements that must be met. All of the services require a mobile broadband modem (pictured is Samsung's XOHM ExpressCard for $59.99.) that lets you connect to the provider's network. These modems usually connect to your laptop via an ExpressCard slot or USB port and cost around $50.
Before signing a contract, you'll also want to note the data surcharges for each provider. Sprint is the only provider that offers its customers a "soft cap," meaning they'll let you exceed your data limit without charging you additional fees. Abuse of this soft cap, however, could lead to penalties, suspension of your account, or surcharges. And lastly, remember that many of these services will hit you with a termination fee if you cancel your plan before the end of your first year.
The road ahead
Sprint's XOHM WiMax network may be the only 4G network available, but Verizon and AT&T Wireless are hoping to change that when they finish a joint 4G network in 2009. Named Long Term Evolution (LTE), this network will use the 700MHz spectrum (which will allow it to travel through walls and offices buildings) and offer similar speeds to WiMax. However, LTE won't be commercially available until 2010. That makes WiMax the most promising alternative, that is, if you can wait for it to reach your city.
Louis Ramirez is dealnews' Features Editor.