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Personal tech columnist finds Cingular, Verizon versions of ExpressCard cell modems work well, but Cingular’s network not so much: Walt Mossberg tested both EVDO and HSDPA ExpressCard adapters from Novatel that use the new PCI Express adapter for laptops. He thought both cards worked just fine, and had no complaints about setting them up. However, he did find in his testing in two cities and an Amtrak route that Cingular just couldn’t compete with Verizon. Cingular is still building out their network, but Mossberg’s review shows how far behind they are in performance in two major east coast cities likely to find subscribers.
The company will ship the 595U for EVDO Rev. A networks by the end of 2006; HSDPA networks via the 875U in first quarter 2007: With a growing number of computers sporting ExpressCard slots or no card slots, and the growing interest in using cellular data on more exotic devices without slots and desktop computers, a USB adapter is a natural evolution of the form factor. It’s only surprising that it took this long. A USB cell modem also makes it easier to walk your service around among many devices you own or share them for a business.
They’ll offer a docking cradle, which will make the device easier to use on desktop computers in which removing the USB dongle would require crawling behind the computer. The cradle allows better placement of the modem for signal reception, too.
Mac users will be happy to note that both upcoming cards will feature support for Apple’s operating system.
Novatel ships the S720 for Sprint: The card supports the much faster revision to CDMA-based EVDO service, which both Verizon and Sprint will start lighting up by year’s end. Rev. A offers good upload speeds—several hundred K on average—and has higher peak download speeds (above 2 Mbps) and better average speeds, running up as high as over 800 Kbps. The cards need to be available for corporate folks to test them out, and they’re backward compatible to the current Rev. 0, of course. Getting these out in the marketplace makes a lot of sense for those who want to be ready for the higher speeds as soon as they’re available. The Rev. A network plans won’t cost more than Rev. 0 plans, just as current EVDO includes 1xRTT (low-speed) for areas without EVDO Rev. 0.
Novatel says that Sprint will charge $250 for the card without a plan and $100 with a two-year service agreement. Rates vary from metered use at $40 per month to unmetered (but not unlimited) use at $60 or $80. The $60 rate will now be available for a two-year commitment without a voice plan, which was previously a requirement for Sprint and Verizon.
The company adds Novatel Wireless model: Dell was able to get these cards ahead of Verizon, which seemed a little odd. Verizon is calling the ExpressCard by the moniker V640. It has an external flip-up antenna. No word on Mac compatibility yet; Verizon is unique in offering a connection manager package and full support for two models of PC Cards for Mac PowerBook users.
Perhaps in response to Verizon Wireless’s plan, Sprint moves faster: Verizon Wireless recently committed to the faster 3G flavor of EVDO Rev. A, which offers a peak rate of 3.1 Mbps versus Rev. 0’s 2 Mbps, and an enormously faster upload rate. The expected numbers are 450 to 800 Kbps of downstream speed with faster peak rates, and 300 to 400 Kbps of upload speed.
Sprint had previously committed to a rollout by about spring 2007, but Verizon’s plan must have pushed some buttons at their competitor. Sprint says an area comprising 40m people will be covered with Rev. A by year’s end, and they reiterated a plan to reach 200m people with Rev. 0 and Rev. A by year’s end. The entire network will be at Rev. A by third quarter of 2007, they say.
The press release also confirms that they will offer more form factors for their adapters, including USB and ExpressCard. It makes sense that these adapters have lagged given the coming Rev. A rollout. Shipping newer Rev. 0 adapters might not have conformed to Verizon or Sprint’s plans.
The cell operator releases USB to serve new those without PC Card slots: Vodafone is addressing the needs of desktop users, laptops with ExpressCard, and Apple MacBook Pro owners. Vodafone is specifically offering support for Mac users, which is almost always lacking. Vodafone started rolling out 3G in the UK in June. This is an HSDPA modem, so it’s not an entree into the U.S. market where Verizon Wireless, 45 percent owned by Vodafone, uses the incompatible EVDO standard for 3G. The USB modem will ship in the fall.