When is 3G, like No-G?

When you have a weak signal, caused by being in the wrong place, electrical interference or a downed nearby tower.

I am an AT&T subscriber, and am deliriously happy with the AT&T AirCard I’ve been testing:

  • Plug-and-play operation (the software to connect is stored on a flash drive in the device).
  • Immediate access to either Wi-Fi or GSM (cell) with no login (the card identifies itself to the networks).
  • Reasonable management of Wi-Fi configurations (you know .. those painful WEP and WPA keys).
  • Cool feature: you can stuff a MicroSD into the device and store connectivity goo (configurations and files) directly on the device).

However .. it doesn’t quite have the stones to say: “I have an incredibly weak signal .. you should stop trying to get to the InterWebs using me”.

I’m certain the bandwidth is (on average) 1.5mbps .. however, if if packet failures (due to connection or interference errors) exist, they must be re-sent:

  • If half of the packets fail, you’re at an effective download / transfer rate of 750 mbps (not too shabby).
  • If three-quarters of the packets fail, you’re at an effective download / transfer rate of 375 mbps (decent).
  • If 90% of the packets fail, you’re at an effective download / transfer rate of 135mbps (reasonable .. back in the stone age, we called this DSL).

So, when is 3G really 3G? Well, it depends:

  • You have good cell coverage (more ‘bars’).
  • You’re in a low-traffic area (the more folks who log onto a tower the more folks .. which can include you .. get kicked off).
  • The algorithm on the wireless card seamlessly reconnects you should you get bumped (on a call, you get dropped .. but for Internet browsing and email synching, Nirvana is only a retry away).

Ready to try it? I was (and am glad). Is it worth the cost? Do the math. Consider:

  • Hotel rooms that charge $10 (or more) for a 24-hour period of Internet access. Three or four nights, and you’re even.
  • Coffee shops or wireless providers that charge $30 (less, or more) per month for the service .. then you have to find one of those providers (it’s not impossible, but when in a pinch, delays are significant stressors). Pay for one month .. you’re halfway there.
  • The inherent security risks of Wi-Fi Roguing (how do you know you didn’t just connect to a hacker-controlled honey pot? Pick up just one virus ..

Last but not least .. most important, actually: productivity losses when you’re offline. Yes: we can all survive when we’re disconnected. We can work offline, or send bits from our mobiles. However, I have encountered enough times where I needed to send something .. having connectivity would just have been easier.

I reference AT&T herein. They were the folks smart enough to loan me the card. With their return policy (read the fine print carefully), an AirCard is worth a try, especially since it’s on their dime. Other carriers provide the same services .. consider the deals .. read the fine print .. you know the drill.

About Michael Coates
I am a pragmatic evangelist. The products, services and solutions I write about fulfill real-world expectations and use cases. I stay up-to-date on real products I use and review, and share my thoughts here. I apply the same lens when designing an architecture, product or when writing papers. I am always looking for ways that technology can create or enhance a business opportunity .. not just technology for technology's sake. My CV says: Seasoned technology executive, leveraging years of experience with enterprise and integration architectural patterns, executed with healthy doses of business acumen and pragmatism. That's me. My web site says: Technology innovations provide a myriad of opportunities for businesses. That said, having the "latest and greatest" for its own sake isn't always a recipe for success. Business successes gained through exploiting innovation relies on analysis of how the new features will enhance your business followed by effective implementation. Goals vary far and wide: streamlining operations, improving customer experience, extending brand, and many more. In all cases, you must identify and collect the metrics you can apply to measure your success. Analysis must be holistic and balanced: business and operational needs must be considered when capitalizing on a new technology asset or opportunity.

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