Hands-On With Sprint's Mobile Broadband

James A. Martin
PC World
Wednesday, December 5, 2007; 3:19 PM

A growing number of laptops offer built-in support for cellular broadband data access. This can make life much easier for mobile professionals in need of Internet access on the go.

Assuming they can actually activate the service, that is.

In my experience, using my Sony Vaio VGN-TXN19P ultraportable and Sprint's Mobile Broadband service, the activation process was laborious. (The VGN-TXN19P is similar to Sony'sVaio VGN-TZ150N/B, recently number 8 on ourTop 10 Ultraportable Laptopschart.)

Here's my report on what it was like to activate, use, and terminate Sprint'sMobile Broadbandservice.

Ordinarily, I have no need for Sprint's service, which costs $60 per month for unlimited data with a two-year contract. I'm content using ethernet in my home office and Wi-Fi when away.

But on the eve of a vacation in DeBordieu, South Carolina, a small beach community, I panicked. Facing a last-minute surge of work, I knew I'd need Internet access on my laptop while away. The owner of the beach house where I'd be staying told me her home had no wired or wireless Internet access. "If you sit in a certain spot on the back deck," she said, "you may be able to get on a neighbor's network. But it's not a strong signal."

To make matters worse, my research turned up no Internet cafes within miles of the beach house. And the weather forecast was rain, nearly every day--hardly ideal for sitting outside with my laptop. I could have used a dial-up connection, but the calls would have been long distance and I didn't want to add charges to my host's telephone bill.

I decided to take advantage of the Sprint Mobile Broadband free 30-day trial included with my Sony Vaio. The laptop has a built-in Wireless Wide Area Network chip designed to work with Sprint's EvDO data network where available, as well as the carrier's lower-speed 1xRTT data network where EvDO isn't available. The promotional coupon stated that the trial offer expired December 30, 2007.

To begin, I called Sprint's customer service and explained that I wanted to try the Mobile Broadband service. The rep informed me that the offer I referred to had expired on June 30. My only option was to sign up for the service with a one- or two-year contract and an early termination fee of $200. The rep said I would need to buy a broadband card to access the service.

"I don't need a card," I replied, and explained that the required WWAN hardware was built into my laptop.

"I've never heard of that," the rep said.

I thanked him and called Sprint's customer service again, hoping for a more knowledgeable rep. The second one parroted the first: I would need a special card, my trial offer was no longer valid, and so on.

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