USB Modem Help?

3 02 2012

I need wireless data!

If you are a US based tech-geek I need your help.

One of my limitations when planning trips in the US is access to reliable internet data. My Canadian iPhone plan costs $3-$10/MB in the US – ouch! Which means I turn my data roaming off as I cross the border leaving me blind to what’s going on at work. Staying at hotels is great for internet access, but expensive and I don’t have access unless I am in my room. Using free WiFi at coffee shops is not reliable and doesn’t provide frequent convenient access.

Ideally I’d like to be able to check my work email 1/hr when in the US and I am not biking, kiting or surfing.

So I figured maybe getting a USB cellular modem for my laptop would be the ticket. I have a few questions:

  • Can I walk into a US cellphone shop and start an account as a Canadian with Canadian address and credit card?
  • Can I get a monthly plan that I can start and stop depending on when I am in the US?
  • Any suggestion for carriers that provide good coverage in the Western US?
  • Any suggestions for specific data plans?
  • Do you see any problems with this idea?

Any suggestions or ideas how to get internet data to my laptop regularly at a reasonable cost when I am road tripping in the US would be appreciated.



12 responses

3 02 2012

Here is an idea. You can get unlimited data from Sprint with your cellphone. From there you can tether your cellphone to your laptop (not ipad though) using an application from ( This app basically makes your cell phone into a modem and allows you to access the internet using your unlimited data plan. Otherwise you will be paying another $50.00 on top of your cell phone bill in order to get internet access. I know this sounds complicated but check out junefabrics and they should be able to explain. Be sure you have unlimited data. Not sure of T-Mobile offers this plan. I know Verizon does not offer unlimited data any more. I use sprint and a tech geek advised me on tethering your cell phone and using it as a modem.

3 02 2012

I don’t have a US cellphone and I don’t have an unlimited data plan on my Canadian cellphone. I will keep my Canadian cellphone on as it’s the # people from work have. I can live with the cost of short voice calls if it means I can travel in the US.

I don’t really want to buy a US cellphone or sign up for a longterm plan for one to get it for free.

Ideally I’d like to get a month to month data plan on a cheap USB modem that I can turn on or off when I go to the US paying for a month at a time.

3 02 2012

For example here is a typical scenario.

– I am leaving for a 2 week MTB trip to Moab/Sedona
– I call T-Mobile [just an example] and turn on my data account
– assuming I already have their USB key and an account from a previous trip
– I use the USB key during my trip
– when I get home I turn off the account
– hopefully I pay for a month’s worth of data service [say $50]

3 02 2012

Pick a provider that supplies service to your desired location/area, then work from there. Found a decent reference if you want to go the MiFi hotspot route. Would allow you to use your phone via wireless (turn off the cell and go VOIP route for calls) and also hook up a laptop etc.

3 02 2012
3 02 2012

hmm, looks like mine didn’t take.

what about a pay as you go mifi hotspot?
you can connect in your laptop and or your phone.

3 02 2012

i think verizon and virgin mobile offer them.
verizon sells them at best buy.
pretty sure you can walk in, buy one, and then sign up with a credit card, paying a month at a time.

3 02 2012

You’ll probably get nailed for an activation fee. T-Mobile asked for $30 upfront when I wanted to do something similar with my old phone last year.

There’s no contract on Virgin Mobile, but the upfront costs (again) might not be worth it. 3G hardware won’t be good for much longer.

3 02 2012

You can walk into a Walmart and pick up either a T-mobile USB 4G prepaid modem or a Virgin Mobile 3G (network provided by Sprint) MiFi prepaid modem. Both of them offer no contract, pay-as-you-go service. The carriers both offer pretty decent service in the major metro areas and along the big highways. Not being Canadian I’m not really sure what the rules are, but I have to imagine lots of foreign travelers pick up no-contracts phones and data service just for the reasons you mention.

3 02 2012

Phoo – thanks – walking into Walmart and leaving 10mins later with a pre-paid USB modem sounds perfect for my needs.

4 02 2012

I use the pay as you go stuff from WM all the time, works great. There is another company that let’s you pay for a block of service based on amount of data versus time. But I don’t recall the name.


5 02 2012

Thanks for the help guys. Just the information I needed. I’ll be trying the Walmart pay as you go option on my next US trip and report back. It may just be the game changer I was looking for…=-)

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