by Kevin O’Brien
Anyone who has ever owned a laptop at one time or another has thought of how great it would be to have web access no matter your location. Wireless broadband cards like the Sprint Connection Card (Sierra Wireless AirCard 580), among others, allow this to take place. But what happens when you want to share this Sprint connection with more than one device? Thanks to the Linksys WRT54G3G router, you can do this now.
Sprint Wireless broadband card next to Linksys WRT54G3G wireless router (view large image)
The Sprint connection card
I found the Sprint Connection Card to be a pretty interesting device from day one. Just the idea of being able to do the simplest of things like chat on AIM or read my favorite web forum while riding in someone else’s car could now take place. It’s a similar feeling to getting your first wireless network setup in your house, and crashing in your couch with your laptop open while you get to play with your cats, and catch some evening news. Now just take that idea, and instead if your house, any moderately populated city. As you can imagine, you are presented with so many options, it can be hard to think of where you might want to write your class paper, or finish up on that presentation for work. Maybe you want to relax in a local park, or even chill on the beach (maybe not this time of year) instead of being cramped up in your house all day.
Sharing your cell card connection using a Linksys router
One drawback up until recently with wireless PCMCIA cards is you might have a decent chunk of bandwidth using this Sprint wireless card, but you couldn’t easily share it with other devices around you. Included with my review kit was a new Linksys WRT54G3G-ST enabled router that allows you to simply insert the Sprint cell card into the top of the router, and instantly have a wireless network up and running to share with other systems around you. Not only could this allow you to connect in remote area with devices that wouldn’t normally work with PCMCIA cell cards, but now you can also share one account over many devices, and save money by sharing. This router also works as a typical 802.11 b/g router for a plugged in ethernet internet connection as well.
Front view of Linksys Wireless router with cell card capability (view large image)
Sprint Wireless Card
The wireless card is very simplistic. It doesn’t stand out that much compared to your laptop, and looks like any other wireless card out their. It has a little flip-up antenna to get better reception, but oddly enough, it didn’t seem to improve or hurt in either position.
Linksys router with Sprint Wireless card inserted (view large image)
The router is also pretty basic, and pretty slim to fit into small areas. It takes up about as much space as a book, and with its small footprint, it could stand upright on the end of a desk without taking up too much precious space.
A view of the ports on the Linksys WRT54G3G router (view large image)
The included sprint software for the Sprint Connection Card appears to be pretty minimal, and doesn’t take up that much memory in the background when it is running. My laptop only has 512MB of ram, so slimmed down programs are preferred over bulky programs. Setup and configuring was very simple, with only a few prompts where you enter in your various phone numbers and access codes. This allows your laptop to properly authenticate itself on wireless cell networks.
During use, once it connects, it has few problems. Getting it to connect might take a few tries though. Throughout my testing, almost every first connection attempted failed with an error about a lack of dial tone. Really confusing as nothing in that software is really setup for any dialup connections. The 2nd shot generally worked like it should though, and it properly authenticates and establishes a working connection on the network. Reception is pretty hard to gauge, as it always stayed at either 4-5 bars. This was even in some areas where my Sprint cell phone barely gets 1, and frequently drops out.
Wireless cell performance is pretty good for getting an internet connection out in the middle of nowhere. That said, I would enjoy a bit more upload speed. I averaged between 50-70 KB/s download, and 4-6KB/s upload. Surfing the web, and doing mostly one-way traffic was ok, but things like uploading email attachments took a bit of time.
The test I like to run on my broadband connections is the dslreports speed test. They give multiple servers to test from, and you can pick and choose one from various areas of the country closest to you. Below are two speed tests I ran just before this review submission, and they ended up having almost 30% faster upload speeds than what I have been usually getting. Maybe they tweaked the service in my area? Not sure, but I’ll take whatever bandwidth increase I can get.
You can see in these benchmarks that download speeds are very respectable but upload is slow. Sprint indicates to us that the Linksys router will also work with the Rev. A-capable Sprint wireless cards recently released so if you’re a customer in an area where Rev. A is launched upload rates will be higher as well as download rates. With Rev. A peak download speeds are quoted at 3.1Mbps (from 2.0Mbps in our review card) and upload rates of 1.8Mbps (up from 144kbps in our review card).
Depending on how much disposable income you have, or how important field work is to your business will decide if this card is for you. The contracts don’t come cheap, being almost twice that of a wired home cable or DSL connections for unlimited data packages. Pricing for unlimited data usage is currently $59.99/month with a 2 year contract or $79.99/month without a contract. If you can see this cost per month for a 24/7 internet connection all around the country as a worthwhile purchase, then perhaps you should take a look at the Sprint wireless card and plan. And if you do that, may as well buy the Linksys WRT54G3G-ST router so you can flexibly share that connection among other devices.
- Non-flashy design, doesn’t stick out or become a target for theft. Looks like any old average wireless card.
- The linksys router included with the review is very compact and easy to setup. Only needs power connection to be up and running.
- Very good cell reception
- Software for laptop can be tricky to connect sometimes (not an issue with the router that does all this internally)
- Speeds are not as fast as a wired connection