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Zooming down the highway connected to the Internet

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How neat would it be to be rolling along and checking the road conditions, making your next campground reservation or updating your Personal Travel Website? Of course, if you are the driver, we don't think this is a good idea, but for your co-pilot or other passengers, what a great convenience.

This is now a very real possibility with cellular data cards, also known as "air cards."  The first thing you need to know is that they have nothing to do with your cellular phone service.  Forget all about that.  What is similar is that they use cellular technology (the towers, routing, etc.), but without those pesky minutes or long distance to worry about.

A cellular data card can be purchased from any cellular carrier (or you can buy your own elsewhere and sign up for the service) and fits into a PCM-CIA or ExpressCard slot on your PC.  There is no connection to your cellular phone at all.  In fact your cell service and your cellular data service can be from two different providers, however, you may save money if you use the same provider for cell phone and cellular data service..   Your data card has a tiny antenna on it that communicates with the cellular towers and tells them that you are transmitting as a "data only" customer from this device.

The cards themselves range from $0 with rebate up to $400 or so.  The service to go with the card ranges from about $20 a month to $80 for unlimited access at the highest speeds, depending upon the provider.  All the large cellular companies provide this service;  

So where can you use them?  You will have Internet access automatically connected anytime that you are in cell phone range.  If you can talk on your cell phone, you can let your fingers fly on the Internet.  Like your cell phone, you don't have to be in the service area of your provider - any cell service will do!  What you will notice is that different companies have different technologies in both their cards and their service.  This will cause some connections to be much faster than others around the country. 

If you are a "power user", it's important to check the speeds of the cards and the quality of service at locations that you may use frequently.  It's much easier to get a card working fast in urban areas and along main highway corridors than off the beaten path.  Just as your cell phone "drops" calls, your data card can "drop" service, either entirely or to a much slower network.  If you are a MAC user, you may need to download some scripts to get your card to work - if it will work at all - something to check carefully before you buy. To find the cellular card option that's best for you, the independent reviews at CNET and PCMag are a good place to start. 

If you are having trouble always finding wi-fi "hot spots," this is another way to connect to the Internet reliably and fairly cost effectively.  Of course you can also use these when you are home - depending upon your individual situation, perhaps even in place of your regular Internet service.    

So if you travel mostly in areas where you can get cellular service, a cellular data card may be the perfect solution.  You can have all your work done before you arrive at your destination and be ready to play - not be buried behind your PC.  After all, isn't that why we have RVs?

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