Cingular EDGE and BroadbandConnect Tips

During my travels over the holidays, I gave the Cingular EDGE network and its faster HSDPA cousin, BroadbandConnect, a workout, spending time in Des Moines, Minneapolis, Las Vegas and my home in Seattle over the course of about 15 days. Along the way, I made some important discoveries about making the network work effectively for my needs.

Cingular's BroadbandConnect service is great. I scored 690 kbps down and 92 kbps up in a DSL Reports test from Las Vegas. I couldn't ever get EDGE to complete a test. Obviously that's not as fast as a Cable connection, but the downloads are tolerable and Remote Desktop (or VNC) is extremely responsive.

Skip the Cheap Hardware

Cingular sells a couple free-after-rebate cards. Don't bother. The more expensive Sierra Wireless cards, like the 860 I purchased more than make up for the price difference. Being able to adjust the angle of the antenna on two separate axis made a huge difference in connection speed. I was often able to get at least one more bar in places where the signal was weak simply by tweaking the antenna in more than one direction.

Sit near a Window

In places where I still got acceptable cell phone coverage, the EDGE network performance degraded to less than dial-up speed the further I got from a point of entry. This was true in both Des Moines, IA and Minneapolis, MN. Sitting near a window made a dramatic difference in my ability to pick-up better connections. I had four hours of layover in MSP, and a several hour wait in DSM, so I had plenty of time to tweak my network experience. Not a scientific test, but it certainly made me happier to have an extra bar or two.

Skip the Cingular Software

Cingular bundles software for connecting to their network with each card. Install the software for your initial setup and then get the Sierra Wireless software instead. In some unscientific testing, my connection performance improved dramatically when using the Sierra Wireless software to manage my connection. In more than one case, the Cingular software registered EDGE network availability only, while Sierra's software recognized the faster BroabandConnect network. The app is free and available for download from Sierra Wireless. The same software works with both the 850 and 860 cards.

EDGE and Remote Desktop Connections

I connect to my home network using RDC for most things because it provides a central repository for all my data. Using EDGE, you need 2 bar minimum at -94 dBm to make any connection over RDC. For useful connectivity, you need at least 3 bars to minimize lag. In contrast, the BroadBand connect network delivers usable speeds with only 1 bar. Additional optimization can be gained by turning off things like the preview pane on your email client, to avoid displaying images in email.

Faster EDGE Browsing

Cingular Edge provides a reasonable connection for faster-than-dial up Internet, including things like checking email and reading RSS feeds through an online aggregator. You'll experience some lag for page loads, even for fast sites like Google. For best performance, connect to Remote Desktop or VNC through the Cingular Edge service. Use your email client, browsers and news aggregation on the remote machine. You get the advantage of the higher speed connection on the remote machine for downloads, reducing lag in page load times and information delivery.

Hopefully we'll see a few more cities added to Cingular's Broadband Connect list in the coming months (I'm crossing my fingers for New York by the March 2006 SES). In the meantime, these tips should help improve the experience across the board.