Embedded Mobile Broadband vs. Dedicated Devices

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Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Embedded Mobile Broadband vs Dedicated Devices

Left: a Sprint 598U in a CTR500 router; right: a laptop with embedded Verizon 3G chip

The recent speculation about the touch-screen table computer Apple is rumored to be introducing in the near future (iPad, iSlate, iTablet, or whatever the rumor of the day calls it) has brought an old debate about embedded mobile broadband chips back into conversation. Many insiders have speculated that Apple's tablet will include an embedded mobile broadband chip for Verizon and/or AT&T, an option that's been available on some laptops for several years now. Since we anticipate that the Apple tablet will likely be a very popular device, we think it's important to discuss the embedded mobile broadband feature that is available on so many laptops, and why - despite the seeming convenience - we recommend dedicated mobile broadband devices (aircards/modems) even when your computer gives the option of activating an embedded device. Below are 8 reasons why a dedicated mobile broadband device may be a better option:

1. Carrier: The embedded mobile broadband devices in laptops/netbooks are locked to a specific carrier, so you won't have the freedom of choosing between different carriers. If you buy a laptop with an embedded AT&T mobile broadband chip and AT&T doesn't have coverage in your area (or if you move to a new area without coverage), you will be out of luck - you won't be able to activate it on any other carrier.

2. External Antennas & Amplifiers: Improving signal strength and signal-related performance issues to an embedded device is much more difficult and costly than with a dedicated device. If you experience signal strength issues with your embedded device, directly connecting an antenna or amplifier is NOT an option - your only option for improving signal to an embedded device is with a wireless repeater. Most dedicated devices from Sprint, AT&T, Verizon, and others have antenna ports which allow you to directly connect an external antenna and/or amplifier.

3. Other Computers: With an embedded 3G mobile broadband device, you can only use the 3G service on the laptop with the embedded device. If you have a dedicated device, like a USB/Expresscard/PCMCIA mobile broadband modem, you can use the service on ANY computer with the appropriate port/slot, or use with a router (see below).

4. Routers: Embedded devices only provide internet access to the computer its embedded in - if you want to share the connection with multiple computers or other internet-capable devices (gaming consoles, DVRs, etc), you will not be able to (at least, not easily). With a dedicated device, you can connect it to a 3G/4G mobile broadband router and share the connection to all of your computers via WiFi or ethernet. For the most portability and flexibility the Cradlepoint PHS300 even has a built in battery. Devices such as the Mifi and 3G/4G Sprint Overdrive even act as routers and mobile broadband modems all in one.

5. 4G Mobile Broadband: Sprint and Clear already have 4G Wimax service in some areas (check coverage here), and Verizon's and AT&T's 4G LTE will be rolling out at some point in the next couple of years. Sprint even offers their 3G/4G plan for $59.99, the same cost as their 3G-only plan. With an embedded 3G device, you'll be stuck with 3G service (an embedded 3G chip cannot be upgraded to support 4G) when faster service may be available!

6. Long Term Use: You can only use the mobile broadband connection on the laptop with the embedded device. When you buy a new computer in a few years, you will have to buy a dedicated device (unless your new laptop just happens to have an embedded device as well).

7. Replacement: If your embedded mobile broadband chip dies or need to be replaced for any reason, you will be wishing you had purchased a dedicated device instead! Having an embedded chip replaced is a big ordeal - when one of our employees contacted Sony Vaio support about having the chip on his laptop replaced, they suggested that he purchase a service & repair manual to manually replace the chip himself! Most users would not want to open a laptop computer which has very small and delicate parts to replace an embedded chip (not to mention the fact that it proved impossible to even find a replacement chip online to purchase!).

8. Connection Manager & Firmware: With an embedded mobile broadband chip, you can't use the carrier's connection manager. You must use the connection manager that is provided by the manufacturer. This means that you will have to wait for the manufacturer to make updates to the connection manager and firmware, and thats not a top priority for them! With a dedicated device, you use the carriers connection manager, and its a top priority for them to have the latest features and support available (This can be a support nightmare!).

The bottom line: Using the embedded mobile broadband option available for so many laptops/netbooks is convenient, but that is essentially the only benefit. For long term use, flexibility, and performance, a dedicated device is by far the better choice!

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 27 January 2010 )
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