For too many people around the Washington area, getting broadband access in their homes is somewhere between difficult, expensive and impossible. Last week, though, I had broadband anywhere I took a laptop -- in my living room, at my desk, in a deli and on a speeding Metro train.
Verizon Wireless's BroadbandAccess is the first wireless data service I've tried that could actually be mistaken for a cable or digital-subscriber-line connection. It routinely got me on the Internet in seconds, downloaded 600,000 bits of data each second and stayed online for as long as I wanted.
But at $79.99 a month, it's only a good deal to those who can write it off as a business expense.
In its favor, BroadbandAccess (Verizon's name for a technology called EvDO, short for Evolution Data Only) combines the speed of broadband, the weightless ease of WiFi and the coverage of cellular service. Have laptop, will surf -- provided you don't stray from the District and its suburbs or the San Diego area, the only two markets in the United States where Verizon offers this service.
In its disfavor, BroadbandAccess costs about twice as much as what most people pay for either their cell phone or their broadband connection but can't readily replace either: Its Windows-only PC Card modem won't work in desktop PCs without some tweaking, and it includes neither an e-mail account nor voice phone service.
What's clear is this: After years of false promises of fast wireless Internet access in our time, somebody has finally delivered it.
BroadbandAccess is shockingly simple to use. Run a quick installer program (Win 98 SE or newer required), pop Verizon's PC Card into the laptop's slot, and click the "connect" button on the screen.
Almost every time, I was online within five seconds of that click. That's not always-on access, but it's immensely better than dial-up and even many WiFi connections.
Verizon says BroadbandAccess's downloads should average 3oo to 500 kilobits per second (kbps) and can hit 2 million bits per second (Mbps) at best. Although I never saw peak speeds that high, my everyday results comfortably exceeded those average estimates.
First I ran a lengthy series of speed tests at a widely used benchmarking site (wdc.speakeasy.net). The worst performance I saw was a 540 kbps download and a 63 kbps upload, achieved at half signal strength. Most of the time, I clocked about 650 kbps down and 140 kbps up.