Cellular Modems: 3G Access on the Move

By Mike Houghton | Jun 14, 2006 | Print this Page
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Cellular modems are fast becoming a large part of the wireless landscape and is something that I have been trying to sell folks on for years. It's fast, it's dependable and now many notebook manufacturers are already positioning their notebook product lines to include embedded cellular modems.

Ideally this will enable users to get the best of both wireless broadband worlds, WLAN and 3G. Incorporating cellular modems into your notebook user base may be a good fit for your enterprise if your user base travels often or treks to remote areas where WLAN access may not be readily accessible.

While WLAN's will still remain a staple in wireless technology, a cellar modem offers the ability to access a larger, ever-growing coverage area and allows for connectivity on the move, something only a few major cities offer for Wi-Fi connectivity today.

Why not Wi-Fi?

What could make the use of cellular modems more appealing than WLAN technologies? If you've heard it once, you'll hear it a million times; mobility. Wireless access is all about mobility. Why wait to find a WLAN hotspot, when the use of a cellular modem grants you access on the move across 3G networks. I can't tell you how comforting it is to me when I travel, knowing that I always have that ace in the whole with my Sprint PCS card in my laptop bag.

This technology offers connectivity virtually anywhere you could use a cell phone and its connectivity in motion; on a train, in a cab, on a ferry and out on the boat with the family. And in addition to the common business traveler hangouts you don't have to guess if the airports, hotels or restaurants are going to offer WiFi connectivity.

This coverage area promises to get larger and larger as providers look to offer more coverage to their customers in more areas home and abroad. If international coverage is a concern, there are 70 countries that provide 3G services including China, Australia and most of Europe.

Cost Justification

As always, when considering your enterprise wireless options, cost is always a factor.

WLAN coverage continues to increase and with improvements such as Wi-MAX, there will be many overlapping coverage areas between the two technologies. And frankly, your user base won't care which technology is used as long as it works. Both technologies are proven, so why replace your current technology or add that cellular modem to your notebook base?

As WLAN hotspots increase and the usage and desire for wireless access continues to grow, we are witnessing an increase in places charging fees for this access. For your traveling user base, these fees can easily add up and are often overlooked and lost on expense reports during the cost justification process.

With the daily charges for WLAN service on the rise, a typical business traveler can easily spend more for connectivity on a weekend trip than they would for an entire month of 3G service. For instance, Verizon's BroadbandAccess and Sprint's Mobile Broadband services currently cost $60 a month, plus the purchase of a $50 card, with a two-year service agreement.

If your wireless needs are for a fixed location such as a corporate office or warehouse, then WLAN technology is the way to go. However, if your folks are on the move, introducing cellular modems into your notebook environment may just be the win-win solution you need to reduce costs, increase coverage for your users, and ultimately, serve as the catalyst for increased productivity.

Getting Started and Keeping it a Secret

What do you need to get started? Unless you have or plan to purchase a notebook with a cellular modem embedded, the basic necessities are as follows:

  • Decide upon a carrier. Sprint, Cingular and Verizon are currently the leading domestic carriers all boasting average download speeds of 400-700 kbps.

  • Decide upon a PCMCIA cellular modem card. There are several manufacturers including, Novatel Wireless, Sierra Wireless and Kyocera Wireless Corp.

  • Verify the coverage areas. The carriers all have handy coverage area maps to help guide your decision.

  • Carefully select your test subjects.

Note: If you use a standard brand of notebook, check with your sales rep. Some companies currently offer or plan to offer embedded technology and have partnered with specific carriers that may help with your decision making process. They may also refer you to other companies who have implemented the technology.

Above all, be careful!

As many of you have probably experienced, if the tests are successful, word will spread quickly and if your mobile users (like the ones I've encountered) are all going to want this technology and want it now. So you'll want to be sure your testing is thorough, yet as clandestine as possible until you have all the bases covered and are prepared for a full-scale rollout.

The Right Choice for your Business?

Maybe a combination WLAN/3G strategy would work better. Perhaps your associates don't need connectivity that's as accessible as cell phone service. However, if you decide this could be what you need, feel comfortable knowing that 3G technology is established and has been deployed on a wide scale.

Why wait for Wi-Max when 3G technologies are available now? 3G technologies are proven, secure and offer the latest in a growing mobile phone network environment. 3G networks also allow roaming and connectivity in domestic and international markets.

If true mobility for your user base is the objective, then cellular modem technology should definitely be on your list of wireless options.

Cellular Broadband Resources:

Sprint Mobile Broadband

Verizon BroadbandAccess

Cingular LaptopConnect

Novatel Wireless Cards

Sierra Wireless Cards

Kyocera Cards

Article courtesy of Enterprise IT Planet