Review: Which 3G network is the best?

All 3G wireless broadband services are not created equal. We tested the top three from AT&T, Sprint and Verizon.

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Verizon BroadBandAccess

Like Sprint, Verizon's BroadBandAccess network uses EV-DO Revision A, but makes better use of the technology with higher speeds and less battery drain. Unfortunately, it has the most expensive modem.

Verizon offers 10 connection cards; I went with Sierra Wireless' USB AirCard 595U, which weighed in at 2.2 ounces, has a 380 milliamp-hour battery, tilts and has an external antenna jack. It also squeezed out an adjacent USB device on my X300 ThinkPad. Unlike the free card from AT&T, Verizon includes a handy charging dock and USB cable, but charges $130 for the card with a two-year contract.

Setup was uneventful and took all of two minutes; it involved running a software CD. After that, installation was automatic.

Verizon BroadBandAccess
Verizon BroadBandAccess

The VZ Access Manager interface is the most thorough of the bunch with an online timer, signal strength bars and the ability to start applications. It has a history of your online use and it displays a cool set of fever graphs that show current connection speeds. You can also use it to control your notebook's Wi-Fi connections.

A midrange performer, Verizon's BroadBand Connect network averaged 592Kbit/sec. for downloads and upload 232Kbit/sec. for uploads. Peak speed was 1.3Mbit/sec. On the downside, it took a relatively pokey 5.6 seconds to connect.

To its credit, the modem only used 20 minutes of my notebook's battery life, making it the one to choose if staying online longer is most important.

Verizon used to have an unlimited data plan but stopped offering it last April. The company's $40 monthly plan includes 50MB of data and each megabyte beyond that costs 99 cents. I think the $60 monthly plan that provides up to 5GB plan is more reasonable, but if you go over that limit, every extra megabyte costs 49 cents.

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