Verizon BroadbandAccess WWAN Wireless Service

Anyone who’s even half as addicted to the Internet as I am will surely lust after a service that delivers wireless broadband Internet service wherever you go. I’ve had Verizon’s EV-DO Rev A. BroadbandAccess WWAN service for a couple of weeks, and I’ve found myself using it quite a bit. If you travel, this service is definitely worthwhile. It’s especially worthwhile if you work for a company that will let you expense it. Because at $80 a month, it ain’t cheap. It’s definitely my kind of luxury, though.

Let’s get down to business: How fast is it? On the Verizon Wireless website, the company claims an average of 400-700kpbs. But it really depends on where you are and how many others are using it in the same area. I’ve seen everything from less than 200kbps to more than 1,200kbps, and Verizon’s average seems reasonable to me. At all rates of connection, I’ve found Web surfing and email checking to be just fine. I’ve also yet to experience annoying interruptions or any hiccups whatsoever. Once you’re connected, you’re connected.

Verizon Wireless also offers a less expensive $60-a-month version of the service whose average speed is supposed to be 60-80kbps. In for a penny, in for a pound, I figured. I wanted to be wowed, and I have been.

To support the faster service, I opted for the top-of-the-line Novatel V740 ExpressCard/34 adapter. It sells for $180 with a two-year contract, but I opted for a one-year contract, which means I wound up paying $229. The Novatel card’s Rev. A support delivers the fastest performance available from Verizon, as much as 600-1400kbps downstream and 500-800kbps upstream.

The ExpressCard/34 form factor is very nice. On my MacBook Pro, it pops out when you press it in. My Dell Inspiron E1505 notebook has an ExpressCard/34 slot too. (Verizon also sells a $40 adapter that lets the V740 work in a standard PC Card slot.)

I was able to configure the service from both computers without too much difficulty, although I inserted the card too early in the process under Windows XP (Verizon’s onscreen wizard was a little vague on when to insert the card), which kept Verizon’s software from detecting the card. On both the Mac and Windows, Verizon’s VZAccess software has to be run before you insert the card — every time you use the service. A bit of an annoyance.

Verizon’s network consists of 242 metropolitan areas in the U.S. The coverage map that Verizon Wireless offers is next to useless, but the company does have a search-based tool that it is quite good. Visit this Coverage Locator page. Type the name of the town, select the state, and click the radio button beside “BroadbandAccess & the V CAST” to see a detailed map of coverage levels.

One of the upsides to Verizon’s BroadbandAccess service is purchase and installation. Verizon’s website is pretty bad. It’s easier just to use its local search than to try to actually make sense of it. But once you get past that, my total investment was about two hours, including my visit to the Verizon Wireless store (lots of waiting around) and the time it took to install and begin using the service (15 minutes or so). Installation on the Mac was incredibly fast and easy.

The biggest negative of this service is the price. Frankly, it would have made sense for me to take the Verizon’s WWAN service on a two-year contract. Verizon runs occasional specials that may reduce your monthly rate, even for the faster service, to $60. Plus, I would have gotten a $50 discount on the V740 card. From my perspective, though, I’m not sure I can justify the ongoing cost. Verizon charges $175 to break your contract. There’s also a 30-day trial period. I will probably wind up either paying for one year or breaking my contract — the point being to do this review and to play around with something cool.

Besides the steep price, the only other shortcoming is the fact that BroadbandAccess is incompatible with Cisco’s VPN client. I saw nothing in the contract information that prevents VPN access. Probably because the EV-DO card is more akin to a modem than a network adapter, Cisco’s VPN doesn’t seem to recognize it.

If 24/7 access to the Internet is your top priority, you’ve got to get this thing. (I imagine that similar WWAN services from AT&T/Cingular and Sprint are equally intriguing.) But at $80 a month, this is tough to justify. It’s ideal for businesspeople who travel frequently (Verizon promises significant airport coverage, for example). But if that describes you, maybe you can get your company to pay for it.

Hey, I’m just glad I could come up with a reasonable excuse to try it.

  Fact Box
BroadbandAccess (with NationalAccess), Verizon Wireless, sold at Verizon Wireless retail stores, $80 per month plus the cost of an EV-DO card and a $35 activation fee. 

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