Now that I am an AT&T subscriber for my cellphone service (thanks, iPhone!), I decided to try some of the other goodies that AT&T has to offer, as well. I am part of the large [anti]social class of people who get physically uncomfortable if they can not access Internet for an extended period of time (and, yes, half an hour can be an extended period of time). Considering this personal deficiency, the first natural choice was to try the 3G mobile internet connectivity.

Unfortunately, iPhone does not support 3G. It only supports an older and slower EDGE technology. Furthermore, I can not use even EDGE from my laptop since iPhone does not support Bluetooth modem protocol and can not be used as a modem from a laptop. I was very upset with this shortcoming, when I first got iPhone. Considering that I use a Mac and iPhone is an Apple product as well, I was convinced that they would have the integration squared. I still think the only reason they don’t is because AT&T has a separate service for that. You bet AT&T was not too excited by the possibility of iPhone cannibalizing that line of business for them.

Long story short, I went to a local AT&T store and signed-up for a separate data plan for laptops. They gave me a Sierra AirCard 875U USB modem. With an existing voice plan, I got it for just $150 after $100 mail-in-rebate and my monthly fees for 3G came to $60, which I believe is at $20 discount. All-in-all it was not a bad deal. I used to pay a comparable $40/month for a HotSpot access with T-mobile before. That, however works only at Starbucks and select other shops, whereas my 3G access works almost anywhere in urban areas and coverage will grow rapidly.

The great thing about the specific new model of the USB modem (875U) is that it supports Macintosh, as well. The CD it comes with only has Windows drivers, but you can download the Mac installation DMG from the It installs an application called SierraWatcher that allows you to connect to available 3G networks in the area. It is pre-configured for AT&T but supports an impressive list of providers world-wide.

I have been using the modem and the service for a while now. The connectivity has been a little erratic. Download speed per se is quite stable at around 1MBit/sec, which is not bad at all, but I’ve had problems with ping time. The first time I hooked the modem up, it chose a profile called AT&T Auto. Ping time with that profile was at 800ms, which is horrible. Then I switched to another available profile called just AT&T and got ping times of 300-400, still not too good.

HINT ALERT: Finally, I enabled Local Caching DNS Server (i.e. BIND) on Mac and told SierraWatcher to use it. In named.conf I used the famous, speedy and DNS servers as my forwarders. In addition, I added “listen-on {; };” in the options section of the named.conf for extra security. After this last trick, I was able to get 150-200ms ping time to Google servers (as opposed to typical 50ms on a wired broadband), which is not great but pretty good for a mobile Internet.

I still have couple weeks left on my 30-day trial so I will see how it goes. At this point I am more inclined to keep the service, the feeling of freedom and flexibility is just amazing and supersedes the downside in the quality of service.