I may write about mobile technology for a living, but I have a little secret. I don’t have a 3G modem for my netbook. In fact, I don’t even have a data plan for my phone. I live in a city and find that I spend most of my time either working at home or at coffee shops, libraries, or other locations with free or low cost WiFi and I can’t justify the $30 to $60 a month a data plan would cost. But when I decided to head to CES for a week I knew I didn’t want to rely on the spotty internet access a the show so I decided rent a 3G modem from RovAir.

Prices range from $14.95 a day to $5.95 a day, depending on how many days you need the wireless card for. You also wind up paying for shipping, so if you need the card tomorrow you’ll wind up paying more than if you book your reservation a few weeks in advance. You will also be charged extra if you transfer more than 1GB of data in a one week period. Overall, you could wind up paying anywhere from $60 for a three day rental to hundreds of dollars for a multi-week reservation. While that price may seem a bit steep, it’s a lot cheaper than signing up for a 2 year contract for a wireless service plan you don’t need.

I wound up paying just over $100 to get a card for 7 days. RovAir shipped the card via FedEx (although it came in what appeared to be a recycled UPS envelope) and it arrived around noon on the first day of my reservation. You can specifiy whether you need the card by 10:30am or 5:00PM. I’m pretty sure I said 5. Inside the envelope was a battered case containing a USB wireless modem, a CD with installation software, a user manual, and a USB extension cable.

The company automatically selected a Sprint wireless card for me after I specified that I would be using the modem in Las Vegas. I do have a USB DVD drive which I could have used to load the software onto my Eee PC 1000H, but on a whim I decided to try sticking the disc into a computer with an optical disc drive and copying the setup.exe file to a USB stick, which I was then able to use to load the software on my netbook without plugging in a disc drive.

RovAir offers software that allows PC or Mac users to get online with the modem. There’s no software specifically designed for Linux users, although RovAir is basically shippingout Sprint or Verizon cards, so you may be able to find instructions for working with these wireless modems in Linux online.

Once I got to Vegas I ran into my first problem. My wireless connection had been strong back home in Philly, but it was weak as all get out in my hotel room. I wound up paying $12 to access the hotel’s WiFi.

But the RovAir card performed like a champ when I wasn’t hanging out on the 18th floor of Circus Circus. I was able to post several live updates from the Asus news conference where the company first announced the Eee PC T91, T101H, Eee Keyboard and several other new models. I was also able to check my email, read my RSS feeds and post an update from Intel’s Classmate 3 press event without any problems.

I wound up doing most of my blogging over the course of the week from my hotel or from one of the CES bloggers lounges, both of which provided more reliable internet connections than my Sprint Wireless card. But there’s no way I would have been able to write posts or check my email from news events or the show floor without the 3G modem.

If you find that you need mobile internet access more than a few times a year, you may be better off just signing up for a full wireless plan. But for someone like me who only needs to be able to cover short term events every once in a while, RovAir provides a decent value proposition.

When I was done with the modem all I had to do was slap it in an envelope and apply the prepaid shipping label RovAir included and drop it in a FedEx drop box.

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5 replies on “RovAir short term 3G rental mini-review”

  1. Brad, that seems to be quite a steep price for a rental. I try to tell myself I don’t need a postpaid unlimited data subscription (although it would be nice), but I do need backup connectivity when on the go. And so I got myself a prepaid 3G/HSDPA modem kit from a telco here in my country–Globe Telecom. I ended up paying just about $55 for the kit. I only pay about $ 0.11 per 15 minutes of use, which is reasonable enough.

    Admittedly, though, connection is not always blazing fast. It depends on the cell site in my area, and the level of use/congestion. But for quick emails, blog posts and RSS feed reading, it would suffice. What’s great is that I use the same network on my mobile phone, so I can just transfer prepaid credits from my phone to the 3G modem’s SIM anytime I want to.

  2. i use a ppc 6700 cellphone, and I pay 30 bucks a month for 500 minutes. free text, unlimited internet, and freenights and weekends. I tether my cellphone to my netbook and get everything I need. You can get a similar service for 60 bucks a month through sprint sero. Being able to get internet anywhere, whenever I want makes me so happy. It has saved my butt more times than i can count.

    1. The charge for my wife’s ppc 6700 is $45/mt for unlimited internet data only _in addition to_ normal cellphone minutes (over $60 for the two of us). It’s around $115/mt total. Would you mind if I ask which service provider you use? I may want to switch.

  3. I am curious — did you try to connect to an open access point on the show floor? I checked my mail (and a few blogs) a couple of times from the floor and my iPhone always picked up several WiFi access points (I chose to use 3G, which worked fine).

    I really wish one of the mobile carriers were to follow the European example and offer pay-per-day data plans. I used to have a Spring EVDO card and loved it, but with free WiFi at Starbucks and many other of my favorite locations I just couldn’t justify it any longer.

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