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Gadgets for Juneau's high speed broadband

Mobile Wi-Fi gets serious with higher speed internet

Posted: April 11, 2013 - 12:12am

To any former users of AT&T’s WiMax wireless internet service the company’s new wireless broadband services are a major upgrade.

This article was precipitated by AT&T’s cancellation of its WiMax service in January. It is a first-person look at what comes next for wireless broadband internet in Juneau.

With recent launches from Alaska Communications and AT&T of 4G Long Term Evolution service, GCI’s current 4G HSPA+ service and a growing number of Verizon broadband antennas popping up around town high-speed wireless internet will become more a part of local’s every day experience.

4G LTE is the next step in cellular broadband data technology. GCI plans to switch to LTE in September. However, can it compete with home, wired internet service on performance and price?

A recent test of the Mifi Liberate 4G LTE Wi-Fi device proved the gadget superior to WiMax in every way. The Liberate is a simple-to-use palm-sized product with a bunch of features. The battery will last an entire work day of emails and research and the touch-screen interface makes Wi-Fi setup and connection simple. It even has a pop-up message to let you know when you blow past your data cap. And that will happen fast. The Liberate's only drawback is that for some users it may be too big for its own britches.

Mifi is fast. If customers can afford it they could burn through many tens of gigabytes a month. Up to 10 devices can log onto the Wi-Fi signal at once. During a test of the device a group of users networked an HP laptop from 2009, three Android phones, two iPhones including a 3S, an iPad and a Samsung Galaxy Tab 2. The users simultaneously watched Netflix, Youtube, Hulu; streamed music and a podcasts; downloaded a video game; and surfed through graphics-intensive Wired.com all at once — and Netflix never stopped to buffer. After a two-day West Wing and House of Cards marathon on Netflix data usage totaled over 23GB. This is well over the standard 5 GB per month plan.

A family that streams two hours of video content five days a week along with typical web surfing and music streaming could use more than 25GB per month.

This device is a scream. But can you let it run wild?

AT&T offers a 5GB per month DataConnect plan for hotspots, USB modems and netbooks. Users can add data to the $50 plan for $10 per gigabyte. Its mobile share plan offers a pool of data for multiple users. The 50GB plan costs a cool $500 per month. Add Internet devices to the plan for $30 per device. A 20GB plan goes for $200 plus $20 per device.

Wireless plans from Alaska Communications start at 5GB plan for $39.99 each month and a 20GB monthly plan for $109.99.

The company offers BrandRich’s BrandLuxe 4G LTE Wi-Fi router for $99 with a two-year plan. Its Novatel 3G hotspot runs $79 with a two-year contract.

How do these plans stack up against wired home Internet?

GCI offers its cable modem service in a range of plans priced from $39.99 to $119.99 – 10 GB per month at 10 Megabits per second and 200GB per month at 22 Mbps respectively.

Alaska Communications offers Digital Subscriber Line service provides wired data speeds comparable to that found in 4G LTE for around $99 to $109 per month. However the plans come without data caps.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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