Sprint PCS Wireless Web Modem (Aircard 510) (Type II PCMCIA Card) Sprint PCS
Service costs: You can either share minutes with your Sprint PCS minutes, or get a standard plan for use with the card alone.
Sprint is a leading provider of CDMA service in the US. Although Sprint will be coming out with a third generation product this summer, we thought it would provide a good basis of comparison if we reviewed their soon-to-be-old offering first. The card itself is a standard PCMCIA card, with a nice touch being that the antenna retracts into the card, which means the laptop can be packed without removing the card (or tucked in when kids are playing with the computer).
Installation is easy if you are running Windows 98. You put in the CD and follow the directions. We were running Windows 2000, and the installation worked, but wasn’t quite right, so we downloaded more-current software from the Internet, which worked just fine.
Because this card uses Sprint’s voice system, it connected at their base rate of 14.4 Kbps, which is fine for email and for Instant Messaging. They also use the BlueKite compression software, which nominally makes your browser simulate functioning at 56K. When we first loaded the software and started using the device, the BlueKite server was being upgraded, and we noticed a definite increase in speed once it was fully functional again. We were not, however, able to quantify this, nor would we like to do a lot of web surfing at such a low speed. In two weeks of use, we were dropped twice, both times in a building in which there was virtually no signal.
Using the card for sending email required, with our ISP, changing from SMTP to ASMTP with authentication. This merely meant we went into the email program and changed the name of the ISP’s SMTP server to that of their ASMTP server, and checked the authentication box. Since this works equally well when connected via landline, you don’t need to re-set it as you change from modem to modem. We were able to download and use large files (such as the Norton AntiVirus virus definition updates) with no corruption problems. We were also able to email out fairly large Acrobat files with no problem.
Bottom line, if you need to use your laptop for reading email while away from a landline connection, this device provides a reasonable, cost-effective solution in areas where Sprint has coverage. If you need to be doing a lot of web browsing while en route, you may be better off waiting to look at their 3G offering when it is unveiled.