Thursday, May 21, 2009

Better Internet in the Country? Cellular Broadband!

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Back story: when I accidentally exceeded Wild Blue’s (unpublished) upload limit with my Kitten Cam streaming video project, violating their vaguely-worded “Fair Access Policy”, their response was to cut my Internet access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.

(David Pogue writes the superb Circuits column for the New York Times; out here in the Wild West you can subscribe via email and/or follow him on Twitter.)

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!

MiFi2200 So, Verizon introduced the MiFi 2200 last week, as you may already have heard, along with a truly improved service contract.

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, 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:

mbr1000 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!

Designer, kNotes for kNitters
Have you seen my “Second Story”?

Vintage Knitting & Fiber Arts Patterns


  1. it was my pleasure to provide you with your 3G solution! ;-)

  2. Thank you for sharing this information. I am using HughesNet and they are as bad or worse than Wild Blue. I spoke with 3g yesterday. If I decide to go with cellular I will definitely be buying through them.

    Why deal with the phone companies who don't care about us when we can talk to people who provide personalized support?

  3. Oh, exactly!

    I think large companies with phone banks have gotten SO caught up with metrics - number of calls handled, length of call, no. of products sold - that they've lost sight entirely of the problem-solving function.

    And I got the distinct impression from Wild Blue's support people that not only were they unauthorized to take any action to solve my problem, they couldn't care less that I was going to cancel their service. So I did!

  4. OK, I'm a Google blog meddler now, so here comes the criticism, although it is meant to be constructive. This is in response to your blog article on the WildBlue satellite internet problems you have been having, and your switch to the Verizon USB wi-max modem. I found your blog during a Google search of my own because of the problems I have been having with my HughesNet connection since I made the mistake of “upgrading” my modem for “faster downloads, faster everything” like the frumpy actress in the commercial says. Yeah, right. What Hughes does to its customers is borderline criminal. We get “throttled back” to 10 percent or less of the advertised speeds because of overselling of the service. Anyway, on to your blog, and some edits I couldn’t keep from letting you in on that I noticed.
    The first glaring edit you need to make is the math problem you didn't double check, and it could be a real eye-opener when your bill comes. There's 1024MB in a GB, I think we agree on that, but I think you forgot to carry an extra zero somewhere along the line, and there's going to be a $51.20 overage fee from Verizon if you go as much as 1GB over 5GB, so $.05cents X 1024MB is $51.20, not 5-6 bucks as you had previously posted. Add that to your $60 + tax basic service charge and every FCC fee there is in the world.
    Next, your WildBlue service IS flawed, but the FAP (Fair Access Policy) is enacted as soon as you reach it within the month, and is supposed to reset as you enter the next month’s billing cycle. With WildBlue and HughesNet, you get 375 MB per day on the most popular $69.99 service, and 425MB per day with the 79.99 service that rounds up to $85 with tax added. The difference between what you get with WildBlue and what you will get with Verizon is less than half of the daily bandwidth you were getting with WildBlue. Do the math, 375MB X 30 days is 11.25GB per month with the $70 Satellite service, and 425MB X 30 days is 12.75GB per month with the $80 service that you must have had with WildBlue. Add the nightmare of a 2-year commitment to the fray, and you have a real mess if you really want to post video of your kitten on webcam 24/7. It's a free country. My suggestion for reduced bandwidth on the live cam stream is to reduce the size and color depth of the cam, and don’t update as often to save on bandwidth in the future. Will you go over your limit? If you don’t do something drastic right now, and you are on Verizon, YES YOU WILL. I hope I have helped here, I hate to see people get the screws turned to them, and you seem like a like-minded person with a lot more time on your hands.

  5. Dave, thanks so much for your comments. I don't consider it "meddling" at all, that's why I put this out there for public commment!

    And it doesn't surprise me to learn that I've made an arithmetic error in trying to predict my overage charges.

    You're right, incurring over-use charges of $60 instead of $6 per month would be a nasty surprise. But now that I've had a couple of weeks to use my new service, I am cautiously optimistic that we won't run over.

    With our NORMAL usage - that means, NO Kitten Cam - we are currently consuming bandwidth at a rate of less than half of our 5 GB allocation per month. I'm relieved to see that, because I'd never tried to calculate our bandwidth usage before.

    As for the two-year contract, well, yes I think that's overly aggressive on the part of companies like Verizon, Wild Blue, HughesNet & etc., just as the overage charges are purely greedy. But since they all do it, we had no choice but to accept it, for now at least.

    BTW, don't you think it's interesting that none of these companies offer any incentive whatsoever for staying on past the initial two-year commitment? That their sales force only cares about new sign-ups, and not at all about keeping the company's existing customers? So the minute our term is up, we'll be shopping for a new service, again.

    As for Kitten Cam, I suppose we'll only reinstate it if we are approaching the end of the billing period and have some bandwidth leftover.

    Another option that didn't occur to me until after we'd signed up for all this: instead of purchasing the USB 760 modem, I could have purchased a cell phone with an unlimited data usage plan. Then I could have tethered that phone to the Cradlepoint router ... and used as much darn bandwidth as I wanted! O well, maybe next time.


  6. P.S. According to Wild Blue, my overuse penalty was based on a "rolling 30-day average" and would NOT reset until that average was reduced to fall within their undisclosed limit ... regardless of when I hit the end of the billing period.

  7. Yes, unfortunately, the only accurate way to keep track of usage and how long it will be to be off the FAP is with specialized software authored NOT by WildBlue or HughesNet, but by dissatisfied consumers of the service who, like us, were unable to get suitable service any other way. To Hughes' credit, it is done on a 24 hour rolling average, so we are never out of internet for more than the 24 hour limit, and technically we still have it, but it is so slow that I usually drop off the home wifi net, plug the phone line in, and use my backup dial-up account to get only the BASIC things done. I am still too "fringe" to be able to use the Wi-Max option, and I just turned in another AT&T wireless device as I did last May during a 30 day free trial period. Maybe one day they will run DSL out to my house a thousand feet off the pavement on 30 acres, but I'm not holding my breath. It's truly a shame that the US is a 3rd world performer as a whole worldwide when it comes to something that an ex-VP from the 1992-2000 administration claimed to have invented... (couldn't resist, sorry AL! )

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  10. Thanks for allowing me to post on your blog, I hope that my comments have been helpful to any and all who read them. I scored yet another minor victory in my quest to make HughesNet pay for having me as an unhappy customer for the last nine years. THEY will be footing the bill for my service technician that THEY said I would have to pay for when I KNOW that the problems are all on the satellite they just switched me to. Hey, that's $125 that I really didn't budget for, their techs said I needed it without a site visit, my internet works GREAT when everyone in the EDT time zone is asleep, so if the tech finds a problem, I'll then try to get Hughes to pay for it for the years of overcharging they have put me and every one else they have treated so poorly through. Since every time I call them, I get a different person, I can use the same lines from the same drama I staged over the phone today in order to get some customer service. I urge anyone who reads this post to try the same tactics to get what you want from companies who sit back and collect your money and don't provide the basic promise of service you both agreed upon. The best part about method acting over the phone is that not only does it work, but you don't have to perform all the physically demanding poses and facial expressions as you would in a live performance. Try it, it will save you money, and since you control turning the drama up or down, it is a great stress reliever as well. Use your imagination and remember, it's just a game you set the rules for as you go, and you can be nice and apologize for everything at the end of the call if it makes you feel better, but only AFTER you get what you wanted from them. Have fun with this, and try it out this week if you have a problem with a company you pay in a timely manner who isn't living up to their end of the bargain. (falls off soap box, twists ankle, winces, then winks, hides a smile) Most of all, HAVE FUN ! You'll want to tell everyone how you stuck it to them afterward...and you WILL, much to their chagrin.

  11. Don't forget, MaggieBelize, with Verizon 3G Edge, 5 GB a month = <167MB per day keeps the overage fees away!!!
    BTW, tell your hubby that people out there on the internet publicly acknowledge your cuteness, and he'd better always be nice 2U...

  12. I am now officially scheduled to have a free site visit from a local technician on Monday between the hours of 12 noon and 5 pm...
    My broowsing is still abyssmal, 2.9KB down, 3.0kb up, but hey, it's only $85 bucks a month...
    Advanced support has been leaving me messages to call them back with bogus PIN numbers which I enter after calling the "special telephone number", only to be told that a special one time allowance for me to get through to speak with one of them goes to silence, and then clicks and disconnects me. How does HughesNet get away with this?

  13. I live in the country and have been using AT&T's mobile broadband for over a year now. It is a much better option than Hugh's or Blue. I would suggest to all of you who have a spotty cell connection, as we do, to take a look at wilson electonics. It's rather pricey, but the boosters are well worth the price.

    1. Thanks for your suggestions! Since I posted this in 2009, we found another solution: we moved closer to town. Now we have our choice of DSL or cable - and we went with DSL because there's no cap on usage. Yet. (That's not WHY we moved, I swear.)