Of the multitude of ways to connect to the internet, especially for those seeking connectivity on the go, one of the newest is the USB modem. Typically, getting wireless internet connection requires having a LAN card and access to a Wi-Fi hotspot. But with a USB modem you can have direct access to the internet, almost anywhere, normally at good speeds and in very little time. A USB modem looks a lot like a flash drive or a memory stick or pen drive that we plug into a USB port to store data in. A USB modem can be similarly plugged in at any time one wishes to access the internet. Apart from a special USB modem there are other wireless modems as well with which one can connect to the internet.
When looking for a USB modem, you will come across terms like 2G, 3G or 3.5G. These numbers refer to the type of networks and technologies the modems use to connect to the internet. The initial USB modems operated on 2G networks and therefore were slower and could be operated with a dial-up connection. 2.5G networks used a packet switching technology and increased speeds to 30-50 Kbit/s. After this came the 3G networks which provided very high speed internet connectivity, up to 300 Kbit/s. The latest USB modems operate on 3.5G networks with what a technology known as HSDPA, which allows speed in megabits per second.
When looking for a USB modem, you have quite a few options. Most cellular service providers are already peddling their customers USB modems and they are the biggest and most popular marketers of USB modems. Apart from them, there is also the Apple USB modem, which isn’t exactly a wireless modem, but might be a better option on a Mac than other USB modems.
1. Apple USB Modems: Coming from Apple, this one is every MacBook user’s first option. The Apple USB modem works with your phone line pretty simply. Plug in one end into the USB port and connect the other to your phone line. This modem gives you speeds of about 56 Kbps. Not very high, if you plan to use it consistently but great as a back-up when your main connection slows down. However, it requires you Mac to NOT have a built-in modem so that might make it a little inconvenient. Reviewers on the Apple site seem divided in their opinion – some love it some absolutely hate it.
2. Many cell phone service providers also provide USB modems for connecting to the internet wirelessly at any time. Different cellular carriers will sell USB modems depending upon your country or region. In the US, USB modems are sold by AT&T, Verizon, Alltel, Sprint and very recently T-mobile launched its USB modem. In the UK, Vodafone, 3 and T-mobile are popular for their USB modems. In fact, T-Mobile very recently released its 3G USB modem. Along with providing cellular service, T-mobile owns and runs about 10,000 hotspots in the US alone and users of the modem can access these. When a 3G network is not available, the mobile can operate on EDGE networks. It also offers Wi-Fi connectivity and has storage space so it doubles up as a memory stick.
Most cellular companies sell the USB modem as a contract which entails free downloads or faster downloads, low one-time payables and monthly fees. Users can also buy the modem by itself. The contract would be quite similar to a cell phone contract requiring a certain fixed rental payable every month and anything above this would depend on network usage. While USB modems provide a fast and hassle free way of connecting to the internet, most find depending only on the USB modem a little ‘unsafe’ and therefore use them as back-ups or while traveling.