Although it has an antenna, the $549 AirCard functions like any laptop card by popping into a slot on the side of your notebook. The AirCard works with Windows CE, 95, 98, and NT. Its setup software, Wireless Expert, was helpful when we set up our account. Just as with a cell phone, the software lets you choose from a number of service providers, from whom you get an IP address and a DNS server for your card. Monthly CDPD service is available from wireless ISPs for as low as $60 per month.
After we entered all of our account data, we attempted to connect to the network, but the AirCard Watcher diagnostics program informed us that the network was unable to establish a data link with the Sierra Wireless. A quick call to tech support cleared things up, with the technician instructing us to unplug the antenna from the card and plug it back in. Problem solved.
Surfing in the Slow Lane
We then successfully--but slowly--checked our email and did some light surfing. A word of obvious advice: Steer clear of large files or graphics-heavy Web sites. The AirCard is rated for 19.2-kbps transfer rates, which is even slower than a 28.8-kbps modem. However, the card and the connection were reliable, which counts for a lot.
The Sierra AirCard 300 is a handy solution if you need to stay abreast of email wirelessly while you're out in the field. And not having to locate a free phone jack and plug in a bunch of cables definitely has its advantages. The price is pretty high, but if you buy directly from cellular service providers, such as GoAmerica or Bell Atlantic Mobile, you can shave almost $200 off of your start-up costs.