VERIZON BROADBAND FOR THE HOME

Broadband coverage is stalled. If you don’t have access already to DSL service or cable Internet service, there’s no reason to think it will be available tomorrow, or next year, or ever. Paul Krugman recently summarized the statistics – broadband coverage in the US lags far behind many other parts of the world, and broadband speeds are frequently less than those readily available in much of Europe and Asia. (We pay more, too.) (Krugman’s article is here, but you might not be able to see it without a NY Times subscription. The Press Democrat printed it a couple of days ago, if you have your old papers handy.)

Verizon offers broadband service (“EVDO Rev A,” or “BroadbandAccess” in marketing-speak) almost everywhere in its nationwide cell phone service area. If you live in an area with a strong Verizon signal but no cable or DSL service, you can now get a broadband connection. (Sprint is rolling out similar service with different acronyms; Cingular is lagging behind.)

The Verizon service comes with a hefty price tag – typically sixty bucks a month, plus the cost of the required hardware. New York Times columnist David Pogue just wrote a column complaining about the high price tag, but Verizon shows no sign of backing down.

Verizon sells several devices to process its broadband Internet signal. At first it was only marketed to people with notebook computers, so the devices were in the “PC Card” format – the one that’s the size of a credit card. More recently they released a USB device, making the service available to any computer.

For billing purposes the device is actually assigned a phone number, and Verizon’s service is locked to a particular device. You can move the device from one computer to another, but only one computer can use it at a time.

That’s fine for a traveler with a notebook, using the Verizon service to have a persistent connection on the road. It’s less appealing for a home with multiple computers. At the moment, Verizon is quietly discouraging the manufacturers from filling that need, but one device has appeared that allows a Verizon broadband connection to be shared.

The Kyocera KR-1 router has been available for a while, and my experiences with it so far have been good. It has a slot for a PC Card device as well as a place to plug in a USB device. The service has to be activated on the device before plugging it into the Kyocera router; once the device is activated, the router opens the connection and holds it open for anything plugged into it, just like any other router. (If you buy one, make sure it is running the 1.010 firmware, required for newer Verizon cards, USB devices, and faster speeds.) There’s more information on this page.

Sprint realized that consumers would inevitably want to share their broadband connection among multiple computers, so it partnered with Linksys to release a similar router, reportedly a bit more buggy than the Kyocera router and not supporting as many devices. (Although Sprint markets it as the “Sprint Mobile Broadband Router,” it’s not limited to Sprint service, as near as I can tell – the important question is whether it supports the kind of device plugged into it.)