I’ve never felt the need to pay $30 to $60 a month for 3G connectivity. I live in a major metropolitan area and when I want to work away from the house, I can usually find a coffee shop, library, or other establishment with free WiFi access. But I just booked my tickets to Las Vegas for the CES convention in January. And while Vegas will be the tech and electronics capital of the world from January 8th through the 11th, I’ve heard horror stories about bloggers and journalists struggling with the free WiFi in the past. So I decided it might be useful to have a 3G card to have as a backup.

Unfortunately, most US wireless carriers try to lock you into 1 or 2 year service contracts. If I wanted to sign up for a no-commitment 3G connection, I’d have to pay $200 or more for a non-refundable 3G modem.

Fortunately, Kevin Tofel pointed me toward RovAir, a company that offers no-commitment, short term 3G access. The price isn’t cheap. Plans range from $15.95 per day to $5.95 per day, depening on how long you need the modem for. And there’s a 3 day minimum, plus a charge for shipping. So you’ll likely wind up paying at least $50 no matter what. But that’s still a lot cheaper than locking yourself into a 2 year service plan you don’t need.

RovAir basically has a number of modems that work with Verizon and Sprint’s broadband wireless networks. The company ships one of these modems to your door and requires you to ship it back when your term of service is up. You’ll also be charged extra if you use the modem to transfer more than 1GB of data per week, which makes sense since most US 3G providers cap you at 5GB per month.

I reserved a card for the week of CES for just over $100. My guess is I’ll only use it when I’m unable to access a free WiFi hotspot, to reduce the risk of going over my limit. But I’m also not planning on watching a lot of video or downloading a lot of software. I’ll probably be uploading a lot of photos and maybe some audio or videos though. I’ll let you know how my experience with RovAir pans out once the trip is over.

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9 replies on “RovAir: Short term 3G connectivity”

  1. US is way being europe regarding short term 3g access. In Portugal, and we don’t have, even by far, the cheapest 3g accesses, you still can get a a pre-paid card for 10 euros that lets you use the service for 10days.

    i’m going to new york next spring and i was also thinking of a solution, i think i have to rely on wi-fi acess. there is no way i’m going to pay 100 dlrs for internet just for a few days….

  2. You could sign up for Cricket Broadband. It’s $25 activation plus $40/month, prepaid. If you need the modem it’s another $59. Depending on how many days you need it, it might be cheaper than RovAir.

  3. ” My guess is I’ll only use it when I’m unable to access a free WiFi hotspot”

    Bad news Brad- You’re going to need to bust that baby out more often than not. There’s no WiFi in several of the venues- even some of the keynotes. Two years ago at CES the WiFi in the press room didn’t work reliably. 🙁 Where there is a WiFi connection
    In the Sands they charge $700 per week for a “reliable” WiFi connection. 3G connections are ridiculously slow since you have something like 300,000 geeks in town, many of which use 3G cards.

    Hopefully things are a lot better this year, but it’s never pretty. There’s usually an unofficial suite for bloggers (this year it’s at the Venitian). They bring in at least 2 dedicated T1 lines for a small group of bloggers so we can upload videos and such. Shoot me an email if you’re planning on going to that or need the info.

    1. Wow, 300,000 geeks in town… I wish I had the contract for grease burgers and slurpies… but you probably don’t mean the stereotype 300 pound geek 🙂

  4. It’s a real shame that the US is behind in terms of fast mobile broadband coverage and price, because it means new tech products (like netbooks and smartphones) don’t always support things like HSDPA.

    In the UK all the major mobile providers offer mobile broadband cheaply. If you don’t want a contract there are also pay as you go deals – provider “3” offers 3GB (monthly download limit) HSDPA for £15/month (US$23) and no contract, and allows VOIP. In a contract plan they offer 5GB/month for the same price.

    1. You said it, Justyn. You would think that our lack of standardization (Verizon and Sprint using EV-DO and AT&T and T-Mobile using GSM) would lead to more competitive technologies, service contracts, and prices. And these providers seem to have barely heard of netbooks.

      Theoretically, our expensive 2 year contracts are supposed to offset the cost of partially subsidized phones and devices, but we still pay a lot for both. For example, Verizon charges $419.99 for the XV6800 (pocket PC touch-screen phone) *with* a two year contract, plus $59.99 per month for the 5GB data plan (as best I can figure out their website) plus, of course , whatever your phone plan itself costs per month. (Actually, my wife just pays about $42/mt for unlimited data with her XV6700 [HTC Apache], but she started the plan about 3 years ago and I think they’ve grandfathered the deal.)

      Like Brad, I don’t really need wireless broadband very often, but to me it’s part of the promise or dream of the netbook experience 🙂 I would like to be able to use one any time I’m waiting anywhere or traveling anywhere, or, for example, sitting out in a pine thicket. I think they are supposed to be REALLY mobile NETbooks 🙂

      1. Rovair does offer an OnDemqand service, so if you own a verizon or Sprint card they can activate it for you. techinically it takes about 2 hours, but usually its instant

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