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High Speed Internet for Rural Areas

By James Wise
web posted April 2, 2009
TECH TIPS – My job requires that I have high speed, reliable, and secure Internet access but I can’t get traditional high speed access via DSL or Cable where I live. Luckily, there are options such as cellular broadband.

For a while, I used dial-up Internet access at home and I had a second phone line dedicated for this. Later, I tried satellite Internet access. Satellite access had some advantages because I was able to drop one phone line and it was faster (especially for large file downloads). It was also easy to share this with other computers. Reliability seemed to be an issue though and latency was high which meant it wasn’t great for browsing and was pretty bad for some things I needed to do. Then I tried Internet access via my cell phone’s data plan and I’ve been pretty happy with this. This isn’t to say that I wouldn’t go with DSL/Cable if I had the chance (I think either could be faster) but cellular has been a good option for me personally with my limited choices and seems to be reasonably fast.

Personally, I use Verizon Wireless. They have a good network in my opinion and one big advantage for me is that they offer high speed access in the Edgefield area. Their high speed or “3G” network type is called “EVDO” (EVDO Revision A or “Rev A” is the fastest variation from Verizon). Other companies also offer high speed networks but it doesn’t seem like they cover as many areas as Verizon does (at least not with their highest speed). You can checkout Verizon Wireless “Data Plans” at any of their stores or online at http://www.verizonwireless.com. Plans are typically around $60 per month. Typically, there is a 5 Gigabyte monthly limit (overages could be billed) but that is normally enough for most users unless you are downloading a lot of movies or something.

Internet access is typically achieved using an “air card” which now-a-days is often a USB device (looks like a thumb drive connected to your computer). If you have a “smart phone” with a data plan (like a Blackberry), you might also be able to add a “tethering” option to connect to the Internet via your cell phone for just a small additional fee (e.g. $15 a month). You might even be able to use your cell phone data plan without an extra fee via special programs like Tetherberry  http://www.tetherberry.com/ (if you have a Blackberry) but be advised that such programs may be outside of what your cell phone provider allows and may be more difficult to use or less reliable.

Another option to be aware of (which is especially nice if you have more than one computer or want to have increased security) is “mobile broadband routers.” A router can be used to share an Internet connection with multiple computers in your house. Typically, these are wireless devices and allow you to create a home network to share files and printers inside your house as well. Routers also provide a hardware “firewall” which can help secure your computer against attack over the Internet. Many people use routers with DSL or Cable connections but they are in fact also possible with Cellular solutions. I use a CradlePoint MBR1000 router myself and love it. It couldn’t be more simple to use. I just plug in my air card or tethered Blackberry to the router and it pretty much does the rest (and provides wireless network access for all my computers). It seems as if I have dsl/cable as far as ease of use (the CradlePoint might even make it easier!).  CradlePoint has several models of routers as well if you are interested in a lower cost one. I got mine from BestBuy but you can also get them online at sites like the 3GStore  (http://3gstore.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=35&products_id=765). Just make sure that whatever “air card” or smart phone you use is supported by the router you choose.

I also recommend purchasing an air card with an external antenna jack. This way you can always add an antenna and even an amplifier if you are in week signal area.

Not only do cell phone Internet plans offer people high speed Internet when they may not be able to have it otherwise, but cell phone plans are also great for travelling. You can have the Internet with you wherever you go. I even use it when camping. Even if you have another Internet Service Provider you might want to consider cellular access as a backup and/or option for travelling.

Recently, I saw an article online about another cellular broadband option. Some key advantages to this were the fact that it was contract free (so you could cancel at any time) and at $40 per month, it was a bit cheaper than many options. You can check it out at: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2343675,00.asp. Be advised though that I haven’t used this myself and only just read about it. I don’t know what kind of speed it provides or how good network access for this one is.

If you have a special case where you need high speed Internet access and you have a laptop, consider going to a “Wi-Fi Hotspot”. There are many “hotspots” and a large number of them are even free. Coffee shops are often hotspots and many public libraries are as well including the Edgefield Public Library. If you park close enough, you can even access the Internet from your parked car 24 hours a day. Just be sure to follow the rules for the hotspot and not steal Internet access from somewhere that doesn’t intend to provide it. Also remember that free hotspot providers are offering you a service so try to reward them when practical. In other words, don’t go to the coffee shop and use their free Internet access all day without ever buying a single cup of coffee.

Keep watching for future related tips including how to secure a wireless network connection (from other people near you using it), other ways to secure yourself online, and ways to keep your kids safe and not going where they shouldn’t online.
Do you have a tech question you would like answered or a program you would like to recommend? Email me at edgefieldtechhelp@gmail.com. For computer questions, please include your operating system version (e.g. Windows Vista) and sorry, but I don’t do Macs.

Disclaimer: Software, tips, and links provided are used at the risk of the reader.


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