Wireless Broadband Internet for Laptops: How Much Does it Cost?
written by: M.S. Smith•edited by: M.S. Smith•updated: 5/23/2011
If you want to be able to use wireless Internet everywhere you go you need to purchase a wireless Broadband plan for your laptop. These plans can be expensive, however, and often include special terms or usage limits. Let's take a look at the cost of common wireless broadband Internet plans.
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Today's laptops are more portable than ever before. It is entirely possible to go out and, for about $600 to $800 bucks, buy a laptop which can run for around eight hours on a charge of battery, weighs around 4 pounds, and will fit easily in a small backpack or a large handbag. If you include netbooks you can receive these capabilities on a budget of as little as $300 dollars. In 2008 this would have been crazy talk, but today it is common.
As more people get on the ultraportable laptop bandwagon, more people are wanting ultraportable laptop to go with it. Unfortuantly, wireless Internet isn't free. So just how much is this going to cost.
Note: To clarify, this article is about wireless broadband Internet services which can be used anywhere, or at least anywhere in a large area (say, the metro area of the city you live in). This article is not about wireless Internet which only works in your home and is enabled by a wireless router in your home.
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If you want wireless broadband Internet you basically have two choices. The first choice is to go through a cell phone company, such as Verizon and AT&T. These companies offer data plans for laptops which will work anywhere the companies normally provide data coverage. This means that you can go to any major city in the United States (or whichever country you live in, for the most part) and expect to have access to the service. As the carriers increase their coverage it is becoming increasingly common to be able to access the Internet while in rural areas, as well.
Another option is to go through a wireless broadband Internet company which deals exclusively in wireless Internet, such as Clear. Going with this option will not allow you to use your wireless Internet in as many places as you would be able to with Internet from a cell phone company, but the plans which are offered by this service usually provide standard unlimited data usage, while the basic plans from cell phone companies typically put a cap of about 250MB per month on usage, after which you will have to pay a high per-megabyte rate on any data you use.
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Wireless Internet Cost - Cell Phone Companies
If you would like to choose wireless broadband Internet from a cell phony company you have many choices, but generally it boils up to two plan options. One will be basic plan which offers a very limited amount of data usage, usually around 250MB. In addition, you will gain access to wireless hotspots - that is, normal wireless routers located at various businesses. For example, Starbucks has a deal with AT&T, so those who purchase AT&T mobile broadband will be able to use their laptop at a Starbucks wireless hotspot without worrying about how the data cap. This basic plan is usually $39.99.
A step up from that is a plan with a much higher cap on data use. This is usually a cap of 5 gigabytes per month. Otherwise, the service is basically the same. Going for the 5GB plan will typically set you back $59.99.
These are also typically two-year contracts, so keep that in mind. When you sign up for the service you are committing to paying about $960 (if you go with the 250MB per month plan) or about $1440 (if you go with the 5GB per month plan) over the course of two years. If you try to get out of the contract the company you contract with will do everything they can to charge you with a cancellation penalty.
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Wireless Internet Cost - Mobile Broadband Companies
Clear, the only major wireless broadband Internet company not associated with a cell phone company, offers plans that are different from what you find from cell phone providers. Because Clear positions itself as a replacement for traditional broadband Internet, Clear does not impose a usage cap on any plan as long as you are in the typical area of 4G service. If you move outside that area and use 3G service, you have a 5GB cap. The basic plan for an individual cost $40 a month.
This certainly is positioned well when compared to the plans provided through cell phone companies, but you are still going to have to agree to a contract. Typically, this will be a two year contract, just as you would have should you choose to go with a cell phone company. Also, because Clear does not offer coverage in nearly as wide an area as a cell phone company, this two year contract could be a serious problem should you move to place the company doesn't cover. While you should be able to get out of the contract in that event, you can bet the company won't make it easy to do.
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Additional and Hidden Costs
So, you've picked a plan. Now you know how much wireless Internet for your laptop costs, right?
Wrong. There are two more costs which you have to consider when signing up for wireless broadband Internet for your laptop.
The first cost is the cost of the device which will connect your laptop to the Internet. The connection standard used isn't the same as the one your laptop uses to connect to a normal wireless router, so you need special hardware. A few laptops come equipped with this from the factory - although it is almost always an optional extra - but most laptops are going to need to have to use an adapter of some sort.
Most of the cell phone companies offer an adapter free, but don't count on the adapter being of very high quality. You may end up buying a new adapter anyway if the freebie doesn't work out. Of course, you could also spend extra for a quality adapter right off the bat. For example, the Verizon MiFi Mobile Hotspot is popular because it allows multiple computers to connect at once, but this will also set you back an additional $50 to $100 dollars, depending on the deals being offered.
Another charge is the activation fee, which is might be waived if you're lucky, but could be up to $50 dollars. You'll also probably run into administrate and regulatory charges which can add an extra $2 or $3 bucks a month.
Finally, there are fees which could be incurred if your use your wireless Internet outside of the normal service area or you go beyond your normal data limit. For example, if you go to Canada and you use your US-activated wireless Internet you will be charged a little over $2 bucks per megabyte. At that rate, downloading a 5MB song would cost you ten dollars. So, be careful where you use your Internet to prevent any nasty surprises on your bill.
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Summary - Wireless Internet Cost for Laptop
Wireless Internet for a laptop isn't cheap, as you can see. However, for the time being this is a reality that will simply have to be dealt with. If you really really must have the Internet everywhere you go, you will have to pay for the privilege.