I’ve just gotten off the phone with Dish Network, cancelling their Wild Blue satellite Internet service to my mountain home. Woohoo! I’m finally & officially freed from satellite Internet and now reconnected via Verizon cellular broadband.
The problem for residents of rural America like me, as I noted in my previous post I'm Offline because Dish Network Hates Kittens, is that until very recently, our Internet service choices were limited to two: dial-up (ugh, shudder) or satellite. No cable, no DSL, nada.
Until now, satellite service has worked out just fine for me, certainly an improvement on dial-up. It’s just Wild Blue’s service policies that drove me to cancel them.
Back story: when I accidentally exceeded Wild Blue’s (unpublished) upload limit with my Kitten Cam streaming video project, violating their vaguely-worded “Fair Access Policy”, their response was to cut my Internet access down to a virtual trickle. No warning, no communication, just ZAP – unusable Internet for an indefinite period of time, for which they would still charge me $80 per month.
In my first 10 days of strangled usage, my overage factor was only reduced from 6% to 5%. At that rate, I calculated it would be 50 more days until Wild Blue restored my service. And Wild Blue refused to budge, or even to let me buy my way out of the penalty.
So there I was, becalmed in the horse latitudes of the Internet disenfranchised, when I received David Pogue’s email feature on the MiFi portable wireless hotspot.
And it suddenly dawned on me that there is a third option for rural or remote users like me: cellular broadband Internet service.
All I needed was some new and relatively inexpensive hardware, and I could switch from Wild Blue satellite to Verizon cellular broadband service … which is now cheaper and faster than satellite.
I hadn’t seriously considered cellular broadband Internet before, because last I’d looked it was expensive, with unattractive service terms, and all I could find on the market to receive cellular signal were the one-user-at-a-time cellular modems.
In other words, I could plug the cellular modem into my computer, work for a while, then unplug it and hand it over to my husband when it was his turn to get online.
Clearly, that would never work.
But if you combine that cellular modem with a wireless router to serve two or more users … and find a better-priced service … aha, a real solution!
The MiFi is no bigger than a stack of three credit cards and combines a cellular modem, router and antenna in one device. Power it on, and within seconds you connect to your Verizon cellular broadband signal, and create a cozy, completely portable wireless hotspot big enough for you and four friends/devices to use.
But while the MiFi certainly is crazy-sexy-cool, and I wanted it badly, it wasn’t the right device for me.
I got a lot of help in this process from an online vendor, 3GStore.com. I can’t say enough good things about their (free) pre-sales tech support, and their product choices and pricing.
“You’re exactly the kind of customer who shouldn’t buy a MiFi,” 3G’s guru Alex told me. “Think of the MiFi as a city device. You live in the country.”
Even though Verizon’s 3G network is the best & largest in the world, I still live in a “less than optimal” service area. Up here in the mountains, I need a cell signal booster antenna, and you can’t attach a booster antenna to a MiFi.
Worse, in addition to my wireless laptop and iPod Touch, I have two older desktop computers that aren’t wireless … and finally, portability wasn’t really my primary concern; a permanently functional home office was.
So instead of the MiFi, I purchased:
A Cradlepoint MBR-1000 mobile broadband router which gives me an 802.11 ‘N’ wireless home network plus 4 Ethernet ports to direct-connect my older PCs;
A thumb-sized Verizon USB 760 cellular broadband modem and a booster antenna …
and then I signed up for Verizon cellular Internet service, just as you’d do for the MiFi.
One perk of this arrangement is that I’m not tied to Verizon once my two-year service contract is up. The CradlePoint allows me switch out the modem and the service if Verizon should ever irritate me as badly as Wild Blue has. The MiFi, by contrast, only works with Verizon service, period.
I’d also asked Alex if I could buy the MiFi to connect to the CradlePoint router instead of the 760 modem … then, when I traveled, I could just unhook the MiFi and slip it in my pocket … but, he says, no, not yet. (If you’re intrigued by this idea, the 3GStore is talking with CradlePoint technicians about offering exactly this solution, possibly in the next few weeks.)
And if you are able to wait that long, Sprint will introduce its own similarly-priced version of the MiFi – which will include GPS capability – next month.
Meanwhile, although I think calling the CradlePoint router “mobile” is a bit of a stretch, I can still travel with just the little 760 modem. I could unclip it from the CradlePoint router and jack it into my laptop while on the road.
Of course, without the router it’s back to the one-at-a-time-user situation, rather than a hotspot for multiple users/devices. And I can’t connect the modem to my iPod Touch.
But, what the heck, you can’t always have it all out here in the sticks.
The bottom line:
- The MiFi currently costs either $60 (from the 3GStore) or $100 (from Verizon). All the hardware I bought instead of the MiFi cost me about $225, from which I can deduct $75 in mail-in rebates, for a total of $150.
- The Verizon cellular service is $60 per month, which is 25% less than I was paying Wild Blue every month. And it is noticeably faster than my former satellite service.
- And what about overages? My Verizon contract caps at 5 GB per month – roughly the equivalent of 35,000 web pages – but yes, I am concerned that I might run over. If I do, it’s 5 cents per 1 Mb, which translates to $6 per extra GB. Can I live with 5 GB per month? I don’t know yet, but at least it’s clearly spelled out; and, instead of being hopelessly hog-tied by an overage, I can buy my way out of it.
I never thought I’d say this, but, thank you, Verizon … and nuts to you, Wild Blue!