There’s new wireless technology that might represent a true step forward for some people – with a hefty price tag attached, of course.

The cell phone carriers are rolling out their third-generation (“3G”) equipment to support high-speed Internet connections over the cell phone networks. Verizon and Sprint are first with their version named EvDO, followed closely by Cingular’s HSDPA. T-Mobile and the others will be available soon.

If you have existing cell phone service with one of those carriers, you can add an unlimited data plan and use a 3G device. Verizon’s data plan is currently $69.99/month with a two-year commitment, for example – and remember, that’s on top of your voice plan.

The reward is an Internet connection that is available anywhere in the Verizon or Cingular networks. (Well, maybe. They’re still building it out. At the moment it’s not clear that the broadband connection is available everywhere on the carriers’ voice networks, but they’re expanding it quickly.) Speeds vary but the promise is that 3G supports true high-speed connections, beginning at 300k and potentially much faster.

Current wireless technology is based on the 802.11x protocol; it’s generated by a transmitter with a range of 300 feet or less and tends to be tricky for many people to configure as they move from one place to another. Charges for 802.11x wireless connections can add up – a daily charge at the hotel, an hourly charge at Starbucks, or the like. A consistent connection through the cell phone networks could save a lot of headaches.

There are PCMCIA cards that can pick up this signal, so any notebook computer can be set up to use this service. A better solution will come with notebook computers with the required adapter built in. Dell just introduced the Latitude D620 and D820 notebooks, which can be ordered with an adapter for either Verizon or Cingular; Dell will then facilitate turning on the service. EvDO- and HSDPA-ready notebooks will flood the market later this year.

This article from PC World has background on the technology and anecdotal evidence of what it’s like in the real world. The results are mostly positive (a bit erratic – speeds varied, the signal sometimes dropped out); the magazine concludes that the new services represent a big step forward for mobile computing.

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