Many people have complained lately about AT&T's network problems. My solution to spotty 3G data coverage: switch to Verizon.Here's how.
The Verizon MiFi is a cigarette pack size portable access point. It takes the cellular data from Verizon and rebroadcasts it as Wi-Fi. There's also a version for Sprint's data network, if that works better in your area.
The MiFi is smaller than an iPhone. And of course, this trick will work for any phone that has Wi-Fi. Although it might not make much sense if you were using a Verizon or Sprint phone.
Turn on the MiFi and make sure it's running.
Go to your phone and connect to the MiFi's Wi-Fi access point.
Now you have Verizon's data network behind your phone.
And this means a couple things. For one, I get much better data coverage in my area with Verizon. For instance, AT&T's 3G network craps out about halfway across the Bay Bridge, cutting off my Pandora, or Twitter or whatever else I'm using. The Verizon data network stays connected all the way across.
Another happy accident of using the system this way is you get around data network restrictions. Some video apps, like Joost or SlingPlayer, only work over Wi-Fi. So when you're connected via Wi-Fi to Verizon, the apps work fine anywhere, even though you don't have a "regular" Wi-Fi connection. Also, some apps like Apple's iTunes restrict downloads unless you're on Wi-Fi. This is not a problem when the phone thinks it's on Wi-Fi.
But that brings us to Verizon's restrictions. The MiFi runs about $99 with a data contract. The contract is either $40 a month for 250 megabytes of data or $60 a month for 5GB. For the 5GB plan, you pay 5 cents a megabyte over the limit, and for the 250 megabyte plan you pay 10 cents a megabyte over the limit. Similar charges apply on Sprint.
So this isn't a free work-around by any stretch. But you could cancel the data plan on your phone, saving a little bit of money there.
Another move that could make more sense is using an iPod Touch with the Verizon service, since the Touch has no monthly fees at all. You can make your calls on a VoIP app like Skype, though those calls would be data and count against your 5 GB monthly limit. You could share the wealth with a few other users, too, but keep in mind the MiFi has a limit of 5 users at a time.
It ain't cheap, but it does get you around some restrictions and limitations.