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Dear FMCA Computer Geeks:

What's the best way to get high-speed Internet access using my cell phone, and how dependable is it?  

With Verizon Wireless' BroadbandAccess Connect, I can use my Verizon Wireless cell phone as a modem for my notebook computer when I connect the two using a USB cable. This tethered modem feature is great for travelers who need to check e-mail or download large files. And you don't need to buy a PC card or other devices.

This is a fabulous option for Internet access on the road, especially for part-time travelers, because it does not require a separate contract. It’s a feature of your cell phone contract and it can be turned on and off at will. My phone is a LG eNV and my service is from Verizon. I believe other providers offer something similar, but I can only speak about Verizon.

What do you need?

  • A qualifying cell phone
  • A qualifying service plan for your phone
  • The ‘Mobile Office Kit’ (software and a USB cable specifically for your phone)
  • See Verizon’s Broadband Access Connect page for more details

How does it work?

It’s a cellular technology, so you need to be within range of a cell tower that your phone can connect to. The "range" is getting better and better, though. Sometimes the data signal can connect even when you can’t make a voice call. Dead zones are getting fewer and farther between. You simply plug the cell phone into the computer via the USB cable, and then run the VZAccess software. Click Connect, and you’re off and running.

I have found the speed to be very good. It’s not the fastest, and it depends on the vintage of the nearest tower, but I have been pleasantly surprised. If a call comes in on my phone, I can ignore it and stay connected to the Internet. If I pick it up, I lose the Internet connection. It also works just fine while we’re driving down the road. And, I can leave it online all day if I want -- minutes are not being counted when using your cell phone tethered. It’s the amount of data that is transferred that counts, not the minutes.

How much does it cost?

The Verizon plan that goes along with my phone is $60 per month (Smartphones and BlackBerries have cheaper plans.) That gives me 5 gigabytes of data transfer, which is plenty for normal use. Don’t go downloading movies, though, or you’ll exceed your limit. At 25 cents per megabyte for the overage, that would hurt!

The beauty is that you can turn off this feature any time you want. So, if I turn it on just for a weekend jaunt, Verizon will prorate my bill, charging approximately $2 per day.

But be careful with your timing. I turned it on once toward the end of the month, and didn’t turn it off until after the beginning of the next month. My bill reflected a full $60 for the month that just started. They did issue a credit the following month for the unused portion -- not bad.

Data usage is also prorated. If you use it for a week or so, you’ll probably be fine, but don’t think you can turn it on just for a day and download a movie. Let’s do the math: one day of usage is roughly 1/30th of a month. Divide the $60/month by 30 and we get $2. Now, 5 gigabytes (roughly 5,000 megabytes) divided by 30 = 167 megabytes. If you use 1,000 megabytes, you are 833 megabytes over your prorated allotment! Multiply 833 megabytes by 25 cents and you have a $208 bill for that one day! Now, I haven’t actually seen anyone receive a bill like that, but Verizon’s customer service tells me it is the way it works.

If you have the right phone, and you need occasional Internet access away from home, I highly recommend this method. You can even plug in a router, and more than one person can be connected this way.

— Jim and Chris


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