A Modest Connection to the Future

eLABorations: Aircard/Verizon combo is a good interim choice for users awaiting 3G gear.

The last time I wrote this column, it was from the floor of CTIA 2002, where tech industry execs spoke of the wireless broadband future that awaits us once 3G networks are fully deployed. The thinking seems to be that wireless data services wont be truly attractive to enterprises until they reliably reach 3G speeds of 384K bps to 2M bps.

When 3G services finally emerge from the vapor, Ill be as thrilled as anyone. Meanwhile, between the CTIA media room that boasted broadband Internet access but forbade VPN connections and the 22K bps or so that I could wring out of my hotel room dial-up connection, I was prepared to set my expectations for wireless data significantly lower. Give me wirelessly the roughly 50K bps that my 56K modem is supposed to deliver, and Ill be happy—for now, at least.

The nice thing about managed expectations is that they stand a shot at fulfillment, and my modest wireless wants were so fulfilled by Sierra Wireless Inc.s Aircard 555 wireless modem, running on Verizon Wireless 2.5G 1xRTT network.

The combo boasts theoretical speeds of 144K bps, but Verizon Wireless tells users to expect around 60K bps. In my tests, the Aircard logged speeds of around 50K bps, plenty fast enough for standard Web browsing and for fetching corporate mail over our company VPN.

1xRTT networks are built atop CDMA, the sort of network that Verizon Wireless operates nationwide. The nice thing about this, compared with the much faster but semi-defunct Ricochet network, is that where 1xRTT has not yet deployed, users can transmit data over Verizon Wireless existing network, albeit at a much slower 14K bps.

Verizon Wireless began marketing its 1xRTT service in late January across about 20 percent of its network under the name Express Network, and charges its customers a flat $30 a month to use their account minutes on the network. As a result, users wont be able to enjoy the "always-on" benefits of the technology—unless theyre interested in paying for many thousands of minutes per month.

The Aircard 555, which costs $299 through Verizon Wireless, sports a PC Card form factor like the rest of Sierra Wireless Aircard products, and can be used in laptop computers and Windows CE-based, PC Card slot-bearing handheld computers.

Users with PC Card-less handheld devices could access Verizon Wireless 1xRTT services through Bluetooth—the carrier sells the Bluetooth-capable Motorola 270c handset.

Technical Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at jason_brooks@ziffdavis.com.