An AirCard® is a wireless modem that plugs into a computer and connects to a cellular service provider for nationwide or worldwide Internet access. The term “air card” is sometimes used to refer to the technology in general, and will be used in the same way when it appears in this article.
The advantage of an air card over other types of wireless services is that one can use it to connect to the Internet wherever cellular service is available, rather than relying on hotspots. Using an air card, one can cruise the Web, collect mail or download files from the back of a taxi, from the middle of an oil field, from a secluded cabin, or from a white sand beach.
Sierra® Wireless manufactures AirCards® for a wide variety of clients, making each card proprietary for a particular service. An air card made to work with Verizon’s wireless broadband service, for instance, will not work with Sprint, so you’ll need to choose the carrier before purchasing an AirCard.
If you already have cellular phone service, start by considering an extension to the plan to include wireless broadband. Most providers offer a discount to those who already have cell service. In some cases it might be better to go with a different provider, however, depending on your needs and the coverage offered.
AirCards come with different interfaces to work with different devices. Laptops and notebooks can use an air card made to slip into the ExpressCard slot, formerly known as the PC Card slot or PCMCIA slot. This port or slot has evolved over the years into slightly different configurations that adhere to different protocols and interfaces. When shopping for an air card, be sure it supports the specific type of slot on your machine. If your laptop lacks a card slot, consider a USB air card.
If you’ll be traveling internationally, look for an air card that supports quad-band GSM frequencies and tri-band UMTS frequencies for connectivity over second generation (2G) and third generation (3G) architectures, respectively. GSM stands for Global Systems for Mobile communications, and UMTS refers to the Universal Mobile Telecommunications Systems, which will also be supporting fourth generation (4G) networks.
AirCards range in price and can sometimes be discounted when purchasing a plan, but in general they are available for $45 US Dollars (USD) and more. Cost depends in large part on features and the type and number of frequency bands and architectures supported.
The convenience of wireless broadband service isn’t cheap, but many plans are available to fit differing budgets and needs. Pay-as-you-go plans allow the customer to pay a flat fee for a 24-hour pass, the shortest increment of time sold. This can be handy as a fallback measure when a hotspot is unavailable and access is absolutely necessary. You might also be able to purchase a time block, such as one week or one month for access on a business trip or vacation.
The best plan, if you can afford it, is an unlimited plan. This can run $80 USD per month, about twice the cost of cable broadband. Cost can be offset by increased productivity, however, particularly for executives on the go. Major carriers might also offer special discount deals to companies for group plans.