An air card is a device that connects to a computer, and allows a user to access the Internet. Most air cards use a USB port, and can be connected to almost any laptop or netbook. The card contains a cellular radio, which enables the computer to communicate with cellular networks. Wireless air cards require a plan in order to function. The plan is purchased through a mobile-broadband Internet service provider, and can be prepaid or billed monthly on a contract.
NetZero offers several different air-card plans for mobile broadband. All of the packages are month-to-month, and do not require a contract. This approach can be a smart choice for casual users who do not need a recurring monthly plan. Consumers can choose from five different plans, which range between 200MB and 4GB of bandwidth per month. All NetZero plans require the user to purchase a compatible broadband device. The price for this device is not included in the data fee. A USB stick is available for around $50, and is compatible with most laptops and netbooks. Geographic coverage for the NetZero service is not as extensive as many other providers. Typically, only major cities in the United States have coverage. This is often not a problem for users who live and work in a large city. People who travel often, however, may be frustrated by this limited coverage. In cities that offer NetZero, 4G speed comparable to traditional broadband is available.
A variety of air-card solutions are available from Sprint. Unlike NetZero, all Sprint mobile broadband plans require a contract that is typically 24 months long. However, this contract allows the wireless company to offer very competitive rates. A plan with 6GB of data is available for $50 per month; a 12 GB option is $80. This highest plan is a great choice for power users who stream videos or use other multimedia content frequently. Sprint air-card customers can choose from several USB devices. These are available at no additional charge. The Sprint wireless coverage is nationwide. Users in major metropolitan areas can access the 4G network, which offers broadband-quality speeds up to six megabits per second. Outside of large cities, customers can continue to connect using the standard 3G Sprint data coverage. This combination is useful for business travelers, or users who need reliable Internet even when outside of a city.
Customers can choose both prepaid and contract air-card plans with Verizon. The prepaid option includes 3GB for $60, or 10GB for $90. Users who opt for the contract plan receive better rates. A 5GB monthly contract plan is $50 per month, while the 10GB option is $80 monthly. Prepaid users must buy an air card, while contract customers receive one for free. The Verizon mobile coverage covers most areas of the United States. High-speed 4G signal is available in many large metro areas, and enables download speeds of up to 12 megabits per second. As with Sprint, this reliable nationwide coverage is a good choice for travelers who need signal at all times.
T-Mobile offers a variety of prepaid and contract air-card plans. The contract-free options begin at $15 for 300MB; however, this basic plan expires after one week. A 1.5GB prepaid monthly option costs $25, while 3.5GB is available for $25. The top-level prepaid plan includes 5GB of data for $50. Contract plans with 2GB, 5GB and 10GB of data are available for $40, $50 and $80 per month, respectively. There is solid T-Mobile wireless broadband coverage in most states. The fastest 4G speeds are located near major metro areas. Users without a contract must pay for a USB air card separately, while a free card is provided with a contract. All of T-Mobile's contract plans are technically unlimited, but the speed can vary. A user with a contract plan can use the allocated amount of data at full speed. Once the contract data limit is reached, the Internet can still be accessed, but at a reduced speed. If you require high levels of data, you may find the unlimited feature to be a significant advantage.
- T-Mobile: Mobile Broadband Plans
- Broadband Expert: Verizon Wireless Mobile Broadband
- Broadband Expert: Wireless Air Cards
- Verizon Wireless: Prepaid Mobile Broadband Plans
- Sprint: Wireless Plans
- Broadband Expert: Sprint Mobile Broadband
- NetZero: 4G Mobile Broadband
- Wireless Data Cards: Wireless Internet Plans
- Yahoo Finance: Verizon Wireless Speeds
- Sprint: 4G Coverage and Speed
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