One of my goals is to work more productively when outside the office. I’ve already done away with Microsoft Office and Microsoft Exchange in favor of working “in the clouds” via the suite of Google Apps. The only problem with working in the clouds — is you need clouds (aka an Internet connection). To accomplish this goal I put the Verizon Wireless Broadband Connect service to the test. Keep reading to find out if I got anywhere close to the promised 400k to 2 mb wireless connection speeds – as well as the best place to buy the modem for $ .01.
In my business (accounting software consultant) I travel a lot. In a given week I can visit places as near as New York City and as far away as Alaska.
But not all my travel is exotic.
Many times I’m only an hour away from the office. But without a solid Internet connection I have no way to communicate with my clients (most of which is done via GotoMeeting.com for remote control sessions — similar in concept to a Remote Desktop session). In order to establish those types of remote sessions, I need to consistent high quality Internet connection.
Verizon advertises their wireless Broadband speed range as an average of 400-700k download with bursts to 2MB.
So….are they stretching the truth or will you really get 2MB in speed while sitting in the middle of the woods?
To put the claims to the test I purchased a V740 Expresscard which is made by Novatel.
Tip: The cheapest place I’ve found to buy cell phones is Amazon.com. They were the least expensive for this wireless modem as well. I paid .01 with no rebate form to fill out. Here’s a link to the Amazon product page.
Fortunately the V740 fits my MacBook Pro perfectly. There is even a special version of the Verizon Communication software for the MacBook Pro which is compatible with the latest Leopard operating system (download here) . Installation was fast and my modem was already activated when I received it.
Uh Oh – Is THAT As Fast As This Will Go?
My first test run was done at my house on the kitchen table. With my laptop connected to about 2 bars of signal (fairly weak) – the best download speeds I could get (as measured by speedtest.net) were 400 – 500k. While well within Verizon’s claimed range of speeds, they aren’t exactly the 2 mb that I was dreaming of (and had seen other people talking about in different forums).
Here’s where I learned the first lesson of wireless broadband.
Lesson # 1: Great Signal Quality = Great Download Speeds
Once I moved locations to my office (about two miles away) suddenly the modem signal strength increased. And so did my speeds. Whereas at my house with only two bars of signal I would struggle to get 400 to 500k downloads, once in the office with 4 bars I was “sailing” with 1mb to 1.2mb of download speed.
So what about all the other claimed 2mb download speeds that people get. I read about these on different forums. Well, upon closer examination I learned my next lesson.
Lesson # 2: Nobody Posts Their Slowest Download Speed Measurement
Many forum regulars have created small “badges” that proudly display their multi-megabit (usually 2mb) download speed measurements. What these folks don’t bother to say (but you find out when you read all their forum posts) is that high speeds typically don’t happen all the time (cell towers share their download speed amongst all users – so more people connecting to one tower equals lower overall speeds).
Which led me to my last discovery.
Lesson # 3: Download Caps Are A GOOD Thing
That’s right. I’ve decided that download caps are a good thing for carriers to impose.
When you read about a 5GB download cap, what you don’t realize is that this is a suitable amount of data for most people. Keep reading further into the discussion forums and you’ll see a large subculture of people who buy these data cards and put them into home machines with directional antennas to boost their performance. These are the people gobbling well over 5GB per month. And if they’re sharing your cellular tower – guess what’s happening to your download speeds? The more people connected full time to a tower – the worse the overall tower performance.
Note: Effective March 2, 2008 Verizon Wireless is breaking out their data plans even further. There will be a 50 mb plan for $39.99 and 5 GB plan for $59.99. The hidden gotcha is that unlike current plans where exceeding the monthly limit only results in a temporary throttle of speeds to 200k (rumored) – the new plans impose overage rates of $1/mb and .50/mb respectively (Source: Phonescoop).
My Overall Speed Test Informal Results:
Source of test: http://www.speedtest.net
My House – 2 to 3 bars coverage – 400 to 500k
Metro North Train (Weekday – about 7am) – 800k to 900k – bursts to 1.2mb when slowed near station
Various client sites – 4 to 5 bar coverage – 1.2mb to 1.5mb
I did not test the Sprint (also a CDMA / EVDO Rev A carrier) data cards. Sprint has no data cap – and seems to offer about the same speeds. I did find a great writeup by Kelly Hair –.
For the $60 per month that I pay to Verizon Wireless I’ve used about 250 mb of data and connected to the Internet from Starbucks, Commuter Train, Car, Clients Offices, and my house. All simply by inserting the V740 and booting my MacBook Pro. If you want to work in the clouds (as I predict we all will soon) – a wireless connection such as this is a must.
P.S. – For comparison purposes I’ve also used T-Mobile Hotspots (WIFI) in my town (Glastonbury CT) as well as Manhattan (around 56th and 5th Ave). Each time I’ve measured a very consistent 1.2m download speed. As a T-Mobile subscriber I pay $19.99 per month for the privilege of connecting via WIFI at any T-Mobile Hotspot.