How do I Choose the Best Mobile Broadband Card?

Paul Woods

Choosing the best mobile broadband card usually requires finding the right balance between service, cost, and convenience. The best selection will typically be the mobile broadband card that offers the highest level of service in the most areas; the lowest cost of activation and ongoing service; and the most convenience in installation, use, and ongoing requirements, such as monthly payments. Many major retail resellers of multiple mobile broadband services will offer a side-by-side comparison of providers to help with this decision.

Mobile broadband cards allow laptop computers and other mobile devices to connect to the Internet.
Mobile broadband cards allow laptop computers and other mobile devices to connect to the Internet.

A mobile broadband card is the device used to connect a computer — usually a laptop — to the Internet via wireless technology. The term "card" can be misleading, though. Early models of mobile broadband cards were credit-card shaped, contained required microprocessing technology for wireless broadband access, and were installed inside a computer. The card has since evolved to become an external device shaped much like a portable hard drive, or flash drive, that plugs into a computer’s external connecting port.

In selecting the best mobile broadband card, you typically will want to ask the retailer or reseller to see a map of the service coverage area. The area where the service is available typically can be broken down by street, city, region, and country. Coverage areas for mobile broadband can vary widely from provider to provider.

Additionally, you will want to determine whether the service is the third generation (3G) of cell phone technology or fourth generation (4G), which is higher capacity — the higher the capacity of transmission, the faster users can download data. This is important since monthly service fees usually cover a fixed amount of data transfer. At a minimum, the 3G level is required for wireless Internet data transmission.

Most mobile broadband card services charge similar prices for monthly access at a given volume of service, but they differ on the rate charged if users exceed the monthly service limit. The allowable monthly volume is measured by the amount of data transferred or downloaded. Typically, there is a low-priced service for a limited amount of data transfer. At about double that cost, consumers can download about 20 times the amount of data, which equates to several hours of average daily online usage. In addition, there typically is a one-time activation fee that costs about half of one month’s service.

Finally, potential customers should examine each service based on the convenience of buying, installing, using, paying for, and receiving technical support for the mobile broadband card. All mobile broadband cards require software installation on any computer using it. Most allow multiple computers to use the card, although the card can only be used on one computer at a time. For users with existing mobile phone service, purchasing a mobile broadband card from the same service provider usually means paying only one monthly bill for both services.

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