Be it for entertainment or for work, tablets are the best devices one can be using these days. Sized between a smartphone and a laptop, a tablet brings you better balance of screen space and computing power. However, to ensure juicing the best experience out of your tablet, you need access to a fast and uninterrupted internet connection. No matter where you go, some form of this is essential so that you can check your email, stream audio and video, download files, etc. Every tablet on the market has network connectivity built into it. What differs is the exact network features, and paying attention to these could spell the difference between a satisfying and an awful experience.
Another thing you should watch is the internet connection you sign up for. Simply Googling “cheapest internet service providers in my area” and then picking the first option you chance upon, will not cut it. While the Googling part is par for the course, beyond that you need to make an informed decision based on a number of factors, such as availability, speeds offered, reliability, etc.
The most commonly found type of internet these days, Wi-Fi is something pretty much any mobile device has the tools to access, and that includes most tablets as well. The technology connects to local area networking, which means there would need to be a working internet connection besides this. The network broadband connection gets shared over a wireless network or a public hotspot. The latter can be seen in lots of places, like airports, coffee shops, and libraries. At any of these places, it is fairly easy to get online when you feel the need.
Wi-Fi has many standards that go with each other; with 802.11n being the most common one on devices sold these days. 802.11n is highly flexible, and able to use both sides of the spectrum. 802.11b and 802.11g are both compatible with the 2.4GHz range. It is best if you have the 5GHz spectrum which works with 802.11a networks, because that gives maximum coverage. If a device supports both spectrums, it is designated 802.11a/g/n. 2.4GHz-only devices, on the other hand, have a 802.11b/g/n designation.
Some tablets come with a special antenna-based technology called MIMO. This lets the device use more than on antenna to step up the usable bandwidth, by broadcasting signals over multiple channels. Aside from the wider bandwidth, this also makes the connection more reliable, as well as boosting the range of the tablet. Check if you have this device option available when you Google “cheapest internet service providers in my area”.
More recently, many products have started coming out with 5G Wi-Fi networking, mainly following the 802.11ac standards. Some of these are supposedly able to reach 1.3Gbps speeds when it comes to transfers, which is more than three times what you would get from 802.11n. Much like 802.11a, this uses the 5GHz range, but is different in that it also supports 802.11n. This technology is widely seen in the latest router products, but less frequently in tablets, owing to the added cost that would entail.
Following are the different Wi-Fi standards and their features.
- 11ac – Speeds go up to 1.3 Gbps, and this technology covers the 5 GHz Band, as well as 2.4 GHz through 802.11n.
- 11n – Speeds go up to 450 Mbps, and this technology covers either 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz.
- 11a – Speeds go up to 54 Mbps, and this technology covers the 5 GHz Band. Corporations make up the bulk of users.
- 11g – Speeds go up to 54 Mbps, and this technology covers the 2.4 GHz Band.
- 11b – Speeds go up to 11 Mbps, and this technology covers the 2.4 GHz Band.
Every tablet that has 3G/4G connectivity costs more than one that does not, because the hardware that allows for it includes additional transceivers. That raises the overall bill by about one hundred dollars. After getting a tablet that has this, your next step should be to locate a wireless service plan that delivers your internet needs. The cost of the hardware can be brought down through rebate offers at the beginning of the subscription, or by signing an extended contract with the company. Many companies give hardware subsidies, so make sure to look for that as well when Googling “cheapest internet service providers in my area”.
Most wireless data carriers place limits, which restrain your data use inside a given month. For example, a company might cap usage at a measly 1 GB, which is nowhere near enough in case you decide to do a decent amount of video streaming. Another thing to note is that different carriers do different things after you have exceeded the usage cap. While some throttle the speed down to snail-pace and force you to forego data-intensive use like streaming, video conferencing, and downloading huge files; others simply let you carry on and then hit you with extortionate overage fees at the end of the month. The former practice is called data throttling, and lots of companies use it. Make sure to pick out such details after Googling “cheapest internet service providers in my area”.
When 4G first arrived on the consumer scene, it was hard to figure out thanks to different providers rolling it out in different ways. These days, however, you get a pretty much standardized experience on LTE, with speeds ranging between 5 and 14 Mbps. Carriers lock down LTE tablets using internal SIM cards, so before buying, you need to find out what carriers a specific tablet allows you to access the internet from. LTE coverage is not as far-spread as 3G either, so make sure your device can access both technologies. It is best to look out for these specifics after Googling “cheapest internet service providers in my area”.
3G was a previous standard used in delivering cellular data, but most newer devices too can catch 3G signals. While it is a mishmash of many technologies, the only thing you need to know as a lay consumer is whether your device goes with GSM or CDMA. Each covers different frequencies and technologies, and cross-compatibility is not an option. In the US, T-Mobile® and AT&T® manage the GSM networks, while Verizon® and Sprint® manage the CDMA networks. The speeds are almost the same, but reliability tends to vary with region, which is something you should remember when Googling “cheapest internet service providers in my area”. Because of this, it is important to check through the provider’s coverage maps before signing up. A tablet with 3G compatibility may be locked down to a single provider, and you should also check if that is the case.
Bluetooth and Tethering
Bluetooth technology involves connecting mobile devices to wireless peripherals, using what is called a Personal Area Network (PAN). The peripherals mentioned can include even your headsets and keyboards, and the technology allows transmitting data among them. The main function you should look for after Googling “cheapest internet service providers in my area” is tethering.
Tethering links a mobile device with a mobile phone, with the latter acting as a tether to the broadband connection. Any device which can emit Bluetooth signals is a potential tether, as long as it can also access 3G/4G signals. It does not have to be a phone either; your tablet too can share a connection with other compatible devices. However, most wireless providers have found ways to get hardware companies to block these features, rendering the connection method far less effective than it could originally have been. As a user, you can work around this by either unlocking your device, or paying your carrier extra for getting to use the tethering feature fully. Make sure you find out about this when Googling “cheapest internet service providers in my area”, and not after you have signed up for a plan. Alternatively, get in touch with a carrier you are interested in, and ask them what options exist along these lines.
Mobile Hotspots/Wireless Base Stations/MiFi
This relatively new technology lets users connect to wireless routers that are small enough to carry in their pocket. The device can catch 3G or 4G signals, and connect compatible devices, such as your tablet, to the internet in this way. Novatel made the first of such devices, and called it the MiFi.
A portable hotspot may not be as convenient as having a modem built into the tablet; however, you get the use the connection with more devices, and the hardware costs less. A MiFi device would be locked into a single carrier though, and may require you to sign a contract around a specific tablet device.
Many new tablets carrying 4G technology have the capability to operate as hotspots, so that other Wi-Fi enabled devices in the area can connect to the internet. For consumers that own both a tablet and a PC, this setup is much more appealing than the prospect of signing different contracts for each device. All they need to do is make sure the functionality remains under the single data contract.
Near Field Computing
Known in short as NFC, near filed computing comprises a comparatively short-range networking system. This technology is most famously used by mobile payment systems like Apple Pay and Google Wallet. It could be used for more, such as syncing your devices with each other. Many new tablets come with NFC technology built in.
Different Options for Internet-On-The-Go
Nowadays, you see almost every crowd comprising a good number of people chugging laptops or tablets wherever they go. These people get internet access in a variety of ways: free Wi-Fi at public hotspots, a mobile broadband device installed directly in their laptops, or a hotspot device they can carry around, which lets them access cellular data from virtually anywhere.
While Wi-Fi and 3g go hand in hand, you may be faced with having to choose between the two, especially if there are budgetary constraints, technological limitations, etc which need to be factored in. Following are the pros and cons of different on-the-go internet options.
These places are open to public use, and let you access the internet on their network while you are there.
- Pros: Most place charge nothing for using their internet, and they can be found easily in suburban and urban areas. You can also buy food and drinks in the vicinity.
- Cons: The establishment may require you to spend in other ways to be eligible to access their internet; think Starbucks. Wi-Fi hotspots also tend to remain unsecured in terms of encryption. You also need to locate the hotspot, and then stay within range of the router or repeater for as long as you wish to be online.
Internet cafes let you use their computers for hourly rates, and sometimes they even give you access to Wi-Fi internet.
- Pros: There is no need to be carrying a device with you, because the café has got your covered there. They would also have peripherals hooked up for you to use, such as printers, scanners and webcams. Here too, you can buy food and drinks.
- Cons: There are fewer internet cafes than there are Wi-Fi hotspots, and using a terminal in such a place could get expensive unless you finish quickly. There is also the issue of many of these systems being exposed to malware.
Some cellular networks let you turn your cell phone into a modem, and then connect this to your laptop or tablet.
- Pros: You can access the internet almost anywhere, consider the availability of cellular signals. Web surfing is more secure this way, and lastly, you may be able to pull this off without paying extra fees.
- Cons: Some areas may not have reception, in which case this would not work. When it does come through, you find it to be slower than every other form of internet use. Lastly, some carriers do charge extra on their cell phone plans for the option to use tethering.
Using either a USB modem or a built-in broadband card, you would be able to access the internet on your laptop no matter where you are.
- Pros: Being any place with cellular reception allows you to go online, and the speeds rival what you would get from residential DSL.
- Cons: There are many areas where reception is non-existent, which means you would have to either move to another place or find an alternative way to connect. Another issue is that data usage is often capped, at around 5 GB monthly.