Here's an update that's a better option for those of you who don't have a fancy (expensive) cell phone on an expensive monthly plan.
Since about September 2010, Virgin Wireless has been offering a Pay As You Go (PAYG) plan for $40/mo for unlimited 3G Data
It uses the same network as Sprint, so the coverage ought to be the same. I do NOT beleive it is usable overseas, to the best of my knowledge, but I may be wrong.
This is 'Wireless Broadband
Data' over a cellular network. As described in the posts above, it isn't blazingly fast, but it is adequate for most people's basic internet needs (email, web browsing, Windows Updates, a few reasonable downloads).
Since it is cellular-based, coverage isn't perfect. But in most places where there is good cell coverage, the signal is good and the service is faster and more stable than some borrowed wifi I can pick up. And the big benefit is that I can use it anywhere (in the car, on the beach, even when there are no wifi signals). You should check your theoretical coverage on the Virgin site or the Sprint site. AND when you buy the device, make sure you check your ACTUAL coverage where you mainly think you'll use it, and return the device if you don't get the coverage. This would suggest that maybe the best place to buy one is at Walmart or Best Buy, where you can return it.
I bought my Virgin Wireless device online from Amazon.com, but you can walk in and buy them, I think at Walmart and Best Buy, etc. I think I paid $80 including shipping
(but I see it is now selling from that seller for only $ 65!! --probably because there are faster 4G devices for sale
now ). Then when you get it, you activate it online (a little quirky, but I managed) and give it a credit card to debit the $40/mo from (but it is not a plan, but a PAYG ,so each month you need to go put another $40 in. Or you can put it on automatic, I think.
Amazon.com: Virgin Mobile Broadband2Go Wireless USB Adapter - Black (VMMC76NTKIT160): Electronics
The second thing I got is called a Cradlepoint CTR500 Travel Router
In October 2010, I bought mine from 3GStore, and paid a little more, because they were shipping
the v2 hardware
, which supports 4G (faster) devices. I don't have a 4G device, but maybe next year??? They are also available from Amazon.com
Amazon.com: CTR500 Travel Router
It supports MANY 3G and 4G devices, from many vendors and several cell companies, including the Virgin Wireless, Sprint, Verison, and ATT devices. Once you get your device activated and working on your PC, you just plug it into the USB port on the PWS and it makes the connection and then you have a local wifi hotspot that allows up to 16 connections.
You can set security
(none, WEP, WPA, or WPA2), name the hotspot, enable or disable a second level logon screen
, and set the power (Low Med High) which controls how far it will broadcast. With this device on one boat, you could probably share usage across 2 boats near each other. (Get your neighbor in a marina to pay you $10 or $20 for usage and YOUR usage is then much cheaper).
Unlike the data stick, it was easy to set up and configure (a little past experience with setting up a router is helpful, but not necessarily required).
There is an external antenna connection available on our device , but I haven't tried to get an external antenna.
The benefit of using the Cradlepoint device and separate data stick (versus the new 'mifi' devices offered by the cell companies is that you can upgrade the device itself, and change carriers etc. With the typical 'mifi' device, its all integrated into one device and when you change carriers, you throw it away and get a new one.
You can also pull the data stick from your router, and more easily take it with you, for continuous on-the-go internet access.