So far we’ve covered the basics of BroadBand Cellular Internet Access, and the pro’s and con’s of tethering a phone or PDA to provide internet access to a computer… today’s blogpost entry will explain some pro’s and con’s of embedded cellular devices and make some comparison’s to more conventional devices like cards and USB modems.
First, a quick reminder: high-speed broadband cellular internet is typically provided by using a pcmcia “aircard”, expresscard or USB modem that is connected to your computer and provides that single computer with wireless internet access where cellular phone towers are readily available.
For maximum convenience, some laptop manufacturers have recently started to include tiny cards that can serve the same purpose, but are embedded or operate from within a laptop, rather than connected to the laptop using a card slot or USB port.
The selling point is that with the card embedded inside, you don’t have the ‘hassle’ of having to connect or disconnect any device to your computer. Life is simple again.
Here is a screengrab showing embedded broadband options for certain Dell laptops:
For those always-on-the-go, never having to remember where you might have left your device laying around is a great thing, but it does have some drawbacks that potential buyers should be aware of, especially RV customers.
The main drawback is signal, and for a cellular internet card, good signal is vital to reliable connections and best internet speeds. With an embedded device, there is no simple way to attach an inexpensive high-gain “booster antenna” or the ever-popular “Wilson Trucker” antenna. In order to provide improved signal to an embedded card in a laptop, a more expensive solution like the Wilson SignalBoost wireless repeater would be necessary.
Another drawback is best described as “inflexibility”… once you’ve bought an embedded device for a specific laptop, you can’t easily use it with another computer, you can’t easily upgrade to a newer device, and you can’t easily share the broadband connection with other computers. Certainly not as easily as if your device were one of the more conventional external cards or USB modems.
The last drawback is support. Most embedded devices do not use connection manager software provided by the carrier whose cellular service you will be using. Instead, the connection manager is provided by and (somewhat) supported by the laptop maker. Based on many calls I’ve taken from folks who have struggled with their embedded devices, the fact that the connection manager is from someone who doesn’t own the cellular network, and the cellular network doesn’t control the way the connection manager works, can result in frustrating finger-pointing that you never want to have to deal with when you have problems. When you have issues, you could end up with the laptop maker blaming the cellular carrier, who turns around and blames the laptop maker!
The bottom line is that from an RVer’s perspective, there are few real good reasons to get a laptop with an embedded broadband card, and many valid reasons to consider an external card or USB modem instead.
Got questions about using embedded cards to access the internet? Feel free to join the discussion on the RV.net forum thread for this blogpost by clicking here.