Internet Access Using 'Embedded' Cards

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March 7, 2008

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:
Embedded BroadBand for 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.

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10 comments

  1. Charles Fedderwitz

    Great info so far but could you add something on using an aircard with a router. My wife and I both have a computer and would like to use an aircard in our Rv but have it connected to a router so we can both access the card. I’ve checked on line and some companies offer a router that takes an aicard but when I check with computer stores no one ever heard of them dosen’t carry such a router.

  2. Gordon Ingram

    I’m using the EVDO unit on my laptop & find it great. Depending on the provider & plan you have, you may have to pay roaming charges.

  3. Gerri B

    We have a top global router – it takes our Cingular Air Card and we also bought the booster antenna for better reception. Recently because of our current location we are not able to pick up Cingular so we bougth a USB Sierra 595U Verizon air card but it necessitated buying a USB to aircard adapter. (Best Buy) works great. You have to go to the web for routers. We use 3Gstore.com. Great service, support and ships FAST. You can call them or go to the website and tell them what card/service you have and they can get you the info. My husband and I both use our lap tops in our RV and no problem.

  4. We use Sprint with the D-Link router to provide either wired or WiFi access to the cell card for multiple computers. We also used the 3Gstore for the hardware and assistance in set up. Great service and products. They will completely configure your card and router so that it will work out of the box. The Sprint service has been good (we also have an external antenna) but for high speed requires rev A hardware at the cell tower. Although it should be everywhere, it is not. We get service from 100kbs to over 2mbs depending on the conditions and the set up of the specific tower that is handling our traffic. We also have a Datastorm on the roof and prefer it for most internet use. It is much more stable and reliable. There are times when the Southwestern sky is just not accessible so we have the cell service as backup. You can check your internet connection speed by using
    http://www.speakeasy.net/speedtest/
    Due to tree at our campsite, I am currently using the Sprint service. Our download speed is a decent 440kps and upload a very slow 21kps.
    We talk about our impressions of our wireless cell service on our RV Podcast at RVNavigator.com.
    KW

  5. Hi
    I use a Digital Antenna Wireless 60 Cell phone booster. It doesn’t seem to give a huge boost as some others are claiming. It has to have 40 feet between the indoor and outdoor antennas, which makes running the cables a challenge to get it from the dash board to the rear outside panel of the caoch. You must have the cell phone or data card (mine is a Verizon) very close to the indoor antenna if the signal is low to get the unit to boost the out going signal. I also have a RAM mount for my PC Tablet mounted to the dash for my CoPilot software. It works Great not needing a Key board when your driving for those “quick clicks”.

    We are going to Alsaka this summer with tracks, how does the equipment work in the North country??

    Great blogs keep it up!!!!

  6. John Shirley

    In reference to your article about verizon mobile internet overage fees. You stated as of 5/17/09 that verizon has reduced it overage rates from $.25 /MB to $.05/MB past the 5 GB limit. I just got off the phone with a verizon representative named Venessa, and she researched her current information concerning this information and said that she could not find this change anywhere. Can you tell me where you got your information for this article? I would love to be able to call verizon again and set them straight.. Thanks,John

  7. John Shelton

    Charles Fedderwitz, I realize that this response lacks timing. I am just now reading your post. I am using a Cradlepoint MB1000 router with a USB Verizon aircard. It can be used while driving down the road, parked in a rest area, or whatever. One of the beauties of using this setup is that you don’t even need the Verizon software (actually a third party software) installed on any of your computers. You only need a wifi adapter which is built into almost every laptop and many desktops nowadays. Your 3G USB or express card plugs into the router and creates a wireless hot spot, or up to 4 computers can be connected by ethernet. There is no additional monthly fee for this device.

    Cradlepoint’s website is better than most at giving you information so you can make a wise and satisfactory choice. They kinda explain things so a layman can understand them. This same setup can also work at home if you have an unlimited ISP plan. I am very satisfied with this setup.

  8. John Shelton

    Sorry, Cradlepoint can be found at