Air Card Vs. TetheringAir cards and tethering services enable cellular customers to connect their laptops to the Internet while away from home. An air card is a separate wireless account for Internet access. Smartphone users can extend the functionality and optimize their data plan by adding the tethering service for a nominal fee.
SignificanceMobile computing using a laptop and wireless service uses one of two options: a dedicated air card (or PC card) or tethered connection to a smartphone. Cellular providers offer compatible devices and services through their respective data plans. A laptop is connected to a device to access a high-speed connection for accessing e-mail and Web services virtually anywhere.
TypesAn air card is a dedicated wireless modem that attaches to a laptop's USB port or inserted into a special slot in the computer. The air card has a unique mobile number and separate wireless account with the mobile provider. Laptops can be connected to a smartphone using the data cable, and the smartphone itself serves as a wireless modem for the computer. Tethering requires a data plan for the smartphone and an add-on service activation. Since the smartphone is the tethered modem, no additional account is needed. Both types of high-speed data access require software to access the carrier's wireless network.
BenefitsThe primary benefit of mobile high-speed access is the flexibility to work while away from home or the office without the need to find a Wifi hotspot or to buy a day pass for Internet use. Many smartphone users already subscribe to a data plan and elect to pay a nominal monthly fee to add a tethering option. Others who often work or have a need for high-speed Internet access on the road use an air card so that they can also use their cell phone while surfing the Web.
ConsiderationsThe primary determinants are usage and budget. The air card is a separate mobile device with its own data subscription and usage limits (some data plans are available from $30 per month as of 2009 ). Air cards that connect to a computer's USB port can be used on different computers (as long as the access software is installed). Tethering is an add-on option to an existing smartphone data plan, usually offered at a reduced rate of $10 to $15 per month as of 2009. When a laptop is tethered, the data usage is applied towards the smartphone's data plan. Depending on the smartphone model, tethering disables calling features because the phone is already tied up as a modem.
RecommendationsCheck whether your smartphone is capable of tethering to your computer. Check with your wireless carrier whether your smartphone account can have a tethering option enabled using your current data plan. Evaluate your mobile data needs by activating the tethering option to measure the how often you use your computer on the road. Explore special promotions offered by your wireless carrier for compatible air cards for your laptop and contract details.
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