3G Connectivity – No Data Plan

Being the somewhat connected guy that I am, I am always looking for a way to get mobile access to the internet without having to donate a pint of blood at the same time.   Most of the time I am on my home, school or office Wifi network, but occasionally I could use a mobile connection.  When I say occasionally, I mean the once or twice a year I actually go somewhere.  A 10 hour drive from Utah to LA is a pretty big time sink.  One such trip, I borrowed my fathers mobile broadband card and put in a good 4-5 hours of web development.  On such an occasion, I would easily pay the 45 bucks/month for the mobile broadband but as I said, that's only an occasional thing.  For most months, that would be a waste of money.

I've looked at various pay as you go mobile broadband plans, but they are always so gimmicky. Plans like 10 bucks for 10 days totaling 100 MB.  I'm not even sure what that means, to be honest.  Do I get to pick the 10 days?

I came across a company called TruConnect that does have a “pay as you go” pricing scheme.   For a pretty reasonable monthly access fee of $4.99 , you can connect anywhere and anytime and then just pay for actual usage at 3.9 cents a megabyte.   So 200 MB (which is enough for anything except Netflix) for about $8.  That's cheap enough that I can keep a device with me in my bag and use it when I need to.

They offer two different devices: a USB stick for laptops or a MiFi mobile hotspot for tablets or laptops.   The MiFi is your usual run of the mill device.  (It lets you connect several Wifi devices to a mobile hotspot that you create on the fly).   The 3G service itself is really pretty zippy – no problems with email or surfing the web.   I've used it with tablet, laptops, even my desktop when my internet wasn't working.  It worked fine – no problems.  The devices are not subsidized, as you aren't locked into a contract, but they are very reasonably priced.  $69.99 for the USB and $89.99 for the MiFi

Interesting Applications:

The obvious use case is pretty great.  It's a cheap way for me to have inexpensive internet on the go.  But what really intrigues me is the couple of MB a month applications.  I plugged my USB 3g device into a Beagle Board (3" by 3" ARM based computer) and was able to connect it up to the internet and suddenly my embedded projects are 3g enabled.  I can keep the machine on and run a ssh (remote login) server on it at just under 1 MB/day.  For around 6 bucks a month I can put that device anywhere and still have access to it.  Other interesting applications:

  • Car computer - GPS navigation
  • Pandora (at ~ 1 MB/minute, not the cheapest solution, but still not terrible)
  • Shared office plan - Since there's no plan, the device isn't tied to anyone in particular. Keep 2 or 3 available in the office for anyone travelling.
  • Tablet/iPod Touch - Add 3g access to a mobile device.
  • Anyone got any good ideas?

TL;DR;

TruConnect offers a cheap 3g mobile broadband plan.  It's a pay-as-you-go model, (with a $4.99/month "keep my device active" fee), at 3.9 cents/MB with no contracts or commitments of any kind.

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