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Mobile Hotspot Buyer's Guide

Wi-Fi, 3G, and now 4G services enable broadband on notebooks, smartphones, and other wireless devices practically anywhere. Here's a guide to the latest offerings from T-Mobile, Verizon, and Sprint.
Verizon's Palm 3G Mobile Hotspot adds another option. While the Palm Pre Plus and the Palm Pixi Plus haven't caught on as Palm had hoped they would, a Verizon promotion makes them worth taking a closer look at.

First and foremost, Verizon has dropped the price of the Pre Plus to $49 and the Pixi Plus to $29. Those prices are significantly lower than the starting amounts were and, naturally, they require a two-year contract. For the record, the Pixi Plus is a 3G device while the Pre Plus, also sporting 3G, adds 802.11b/g Wi-Fi connectivity.

They're just phones, however, so why the horn blowing? As part of the promotion, Verizon has included free hotspot access on both of these models. That four-letter word, "free," is the operating concept here -- and makes service quite inexpensive compared to what other carriers charge.

Sprint

Sprint has its own version of the MiFi 2200 (free with a two-year plan) but its latest claim to fame is the Overdrive 3G/4G Mobile Hotspot ($99 with a two-year plan) it sources from Sierra Wireless.

Both are battery-powered devices and the Overdrive does everything the MiFi does but, with the addition of 4G, it has the potential to do it much faster. How much faster? Well, a 4G device should be able to provide anywhere from 100 Mb/s to 1000 Mb/s, depending on usage and locale. As well, 4G is absolutely, positively, maybe guaranteed to offer seamless hand-offs as you leave one coverage area and enter another. The only problem is that there aren't that many 4G areas just yet -- but they're coming, and the Overdrive offers 3G compatibility should 4G service not be available.

The Overdrive is a little larger (3.1 x 3.1 x 0.6 inches) than the MiFi 2200 and weighs just a bit more (4.5 oz). It's rated for roughly 3 hours of continuous use or as long as 1.5 days in standby mode.

While it's important that you're able to connect as many as five devices via Wi-Fi to the Sprint network while you Web walk, the real key here is the 4G service. It certainly means faster music and video downloads so the kids can entertain themselves sitting in the back seat of the car and never bother you with a single, "Are we there yet?" But consider the possibilities for teleconferencing or other business activities when you're staying at that hotel where the Wi-Fi service has just fallen through the floor.

Do your homework here. If you're not in a 4G coverage area presently, make sure you have a realistic time-table for when you might be. Do the same research for the places you travel. If you're going to be stuck with 3G service with no end in sight, you're better off with the MiFi 2200.

For Further Reading

Verizon Slashes Palm Smartphone Prices

Sprint Offers iPad WiMax Service

Turn Your Laptop Into A WiFi Hotspot