Friday, June 17, 2005

I Might Be Changing Cell Phone Providers

If you remember, in this post back in May I was talking about how cool it would be if someone started up far-reaching wireless internet networks, allowing users to connect from anywhere, no matter where they were.

Well, as evidenced in this article, Verizon Wireless will be doing just that here in New Orleans and other major metropolitan areas.

Article Courtesy of

Verizon Wireless and EV-DO bring the 'ubiquitous broadband connection' a step closer

Jerry Seregni
Technology Analyst
November 18, 2004

Louisiana Technology Council president Mark S. Lewis, right, uses a Verizon Wireless Broadband Access-enabled laptop to visit his favorite Web sites aboard the streetcar chartered Tuesday by Verizon for a uniquely New Orleans demonstration of its new high-speed EV-DO wireless service.

Anyone with DSL or a cable modem will tell you that broadband is the only way to experience the Internet, but if you have a laptop, having a high-speed connection at home doesn't do you much good when you're on the go.

The notion of a "ubiquitous broadband connection" is that someday you'll be able to stay "wired" the entire time you're away from home, whether you're driving in your car, waiting for a flight at Louis Armstrong airport, sitting in a restaurant, or enjoying the breeze by the river in Woldenberg Park.

The day of inexpensive, anywhere, anytime broadband Internet access isn't just wishful thinking. It's where we're headed. The big question is how it will be accomplished.

802.11 wireless networking, also known as "Wi-Fi," has revolutionized local area networking, but it's not really a mobile technology. True, you can freely move from one Wi-Fi hot spot to another, but existing wireless local area networking (WLAN) technologies aren't adept at things like smooth handoffs or consolidated billing.

Cellular packet data is a much better solution for wireless wide area networking, but until now, the stumbling block has been throughput. Top cellular data rates hovered in the 100 kbps - 200 kbps range, which is well below the 3 million bits per second (or better) consumers with DSL and cable modems are currently enjoying.

On Tuesday, however, New Orleans moved a step closer to becoming a truly "wired city." At the beautiful Van Benthuysen-Elms Mansion on St. Charles Avenue, Verizon Wireless officially announced the roll-out of Verizon Wireless Broadband Access in New Orleans, complete with short remarks by City of New Orleans Chief Technology Officer Greg Meffert and Louisiana Technology Council president Mark S. Lewis.
Verizon's Broadband Access makes it possible to watch multimedia Web content, like Frank Davis "Fishin' Game Report" videos, anywhere in Verizon's EV-DO service area, which extends from Kenner to Chalmette and from the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain to the Westbank.

Verizon Wireless is the largest mobile operator in the United States. Its so-called "Broadband Access" is an implementation of a Qualcomm technology called 1xEV-DO, or "EV-DO," for short.

EV-DO is a third generation ("3G") cellular network that delivers average data rates of 300 to 500 kilobits per second. The system reportedly has headroom of 2 Mbps or more, so speeds in the 500 kbps range aren't limited to bursts. They're sustainable.

You will have to purchase a new cell phone, smartphone, or PC Card to take advantage of the service, but the good news is EV-DO is backwardly compatible with 1x-RTT, Verizon Wireless' previous high-speed service, the Express Network, which topped out at 70 - 170 kbps.

New Orleans is the 16th city in Verizon's EV-DO roll-out. Other EV-DO cities include Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Dallas, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami-Fort Lauderdale, Milwaukee, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., San Diego, Tampa, and West Palm Beach. Verizon has also made EV-DO available in over twenty airports, including Houston, Orlando, Newark, Phoenix, and Jacksonville.

The company reportedly plans to have a third of its network EV-DO-enabled by the end of the year, which would make the service available to over 75 million people. EV-DO, by the way, stands for "EVolution - Data Only." Unlike 1x-RTT, EV-DO is a data-only network. Traffic on the network doesn't take a back seat to voice communication.

Verizon and Sprint, both of which are CDMA operators, are expected to eventually move to what is known as "EV-DV," a Qualcomm solution that moves both voice and data at data rates faster than EV-DO. The two carriers are currently facing a challenge from AT&T Wireless/Cingular with EDGE, a technology for GSM carriers that offers speeds in the 115 kbps - 384 kbps range.

The new service costs $79.99 per month, with a one-year contract, plus $99.95 for the Sierra Wireless PC card (after a $150 rebate, with a two-year service agreement).

Verizon Wireless will initially offer only one client device, the Sierra Wireless PC 5220 modem card, which is a PC card designed for notebook computers. EV-DO-enabled handsets and smartphones are expected to reach dealers' shelves by Christmas or early next year.

Verizon announced the roll-out of EV-DO in New Orleans Tuesday at the stately Van Benthuysen Elms Mansion on St. Charles Avenue.

Verizon's PC 5220 card is reportedly a cheaper version of Sierra Wireless' AC580EVDO card and warrants a word of caution. Be sure to check if there are any known issues with the make and model of your laptop before installing the Broadband Access kit.

Much to my dismay, I had to do a "clean install" of Windows XP after I installed the card and Verizon's VZ Access Manager on my Gateway M675 notebook, partly because I forgot to create a system restore point before the installation. Verizon says such compatibility problems are rare, but take it from me, other than using system restore, there's no simple fix if the installation goes awry.

Nevertheless, on Tuesday the PC 5220 cards worked fine in the HP laptops Verizon had on hand, and I got to experience EV-DO firsthand aboard a specially-chartered St. Charles Avenue streetcar that took us from the corner of 8th Street to Lee Circle and back. Assisted by Verizon engineer Julio Wong, I was able to download several files during the excursion and witnessed sustained speeds of 64 kbps uplink and 500 kbps downlink.

I wish Verizon Wireless Broadband Access was cheaper, but $80 per month buys you unlimited data transfers anywhere in Verizon Wireless' nationwide "footprint," including EV-DO speeds wherever the service is available. In the greater New Orleans area, Verizon EV-DO is available from Kenner to Chalmette and from the Westbank to the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain.If you're a road warrior spending money for Wi-Fi access in coffee shops and hotels, Verizon Wireless Broadband Access is definitely worth a look.

Furthermore, sources say Cisco Systems and other manufacturers are working on devices that will employ the Verizon Wireless Sierra EV-DO PC Card in a NAT router configuration, which means you will be able to use Verizon's new service for your home network. When these products appear, you will no longer have to leave your broadband connection at home when you depart from work, school, or shopping, which may persuade some users to abandon DSL or cable as their high-speed access.