Editors' note: The rating designation for this product has been altered since the review's original publication. The reason for this is simply the general improvement of technology over time. In order to keep our ratings fair and accurate, it's sometimes necessary to downgrade the ratings of older products relative to those of newer products.
The Sierra Wireless AirCard 580 works with the fastest mobile service currently available, EVDO. EVDO stands for Evolution Data Only, and it's the mobile carriers' answer to DSL and cable broadband. Although EVDO is slower than DSL and cable, it's fast enough to let you work and play productively over the Internet. Most importantly, though, it lets you maintain connections on the fly, in the back of a cab speeding to an appointment or in the train during your daily commute--anywhere you would use your cell phone, in essence. Service plans currently cost $79.99 per month for all-you-can-eat service.
The AirCard 580 is a breeze to set up and requires only a computer running a flavor of Windows (98, Me, 2000, and XP are all supported), a CD drive, and an available PC Card slot. The installation varies slightly depending on your operating system, but in all cases, you'll need to do little more than insert the included CD and follow a series of onscreen prompts that guide you through the process of loading the AirCard 580 drivers and the Watcher software, which you use to connect to the carrier. The whole process takes less than five minutes, and you can use the AirCard 580 instantly.
Verizon has rolled out EVDO service to more than 16 cities and about a dozen airports, but expect those numbers to grow substantially in 2005. Check Verizon's EVDO coverage areas to see if the AirCard 580 can tap a fast connection where you live or work. Beyond EVDO networks, you can also use the AirCard 580 with nationwide CDMA services that deliver much slower connections, in the neighborhood of 70Kbps. This backward compatibility lets traveling professionals take advantage of EVDO speeds when the service is available but leaves them with a failsafe when they work outside high-speed coverage areas.
We tested the card using Verizon's EVDO service and were pleased with the results. Throughput speeds in our informal tests varied from 239Kbps to 884Kbps, depending on our location, which makes the AirCard 580 significantly faster than any mobile PC Card we've tested to date, including the and the . That gives you enough juice to run a remote desktop over a VPN connection and to make a VoIP phone call at the same time. Note, however, that you'll experience those fast speeds only on EVDO networks. The AirCard 580 also works on the more common CDMA networks, but throughput is significantly slower--adequate for e-mail, but not much more.
The Sierra Wireless AirCard 580 comes with an ample two-year warranty. First-level tech support is handled by the carrier, which currently includes Verizon and Alaska Communications Services in the United States, Telstra in Australia, and Telecom NZ in New Zealand. The 54-page user guide is thorough and well written, and it includes an index and a helpful troubleshooting section. Sierra Wireless also hosts resources for the AirCard 580 on its Web site, including a downloadable user guide, software and firmware downloads, FAQs, network coverage information, and a searchable knowledge base.