August 2016 Newsletter – Using a hotspot for broadband access

In July and August, PBDD experimented with two low-cost mobile broadband providers and we would like to share our experience and information about hotspot offers with our partners. Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen are non-profits which work with Sprint and their LTE network to provide wireless broadband connectivity. Both provide access to the Sprint LTE network for use by non-profits and schools via a hotspot for the cost of equipment plus $120 per year.

Download speeds  (via testmy.net) are typically 4-8 Mbps, slower than the top speed of many wired providers, but adequate for the needs of many small organizations. In our case, we are currently using it as a secondary backup network to our current wired service. Each hotspot device supports up to ten wifi-connected clients.

Some key advantages are that the mobile hotspot can be taken anywhere  with 4G data coverage in Sprint’s LTE network . The hotspot has a battery so the network can be set up outside in public spaces for workshops or working outside on comfortable days. We traveled in July and took the hotspot with us, using it successfully in upstate New York.

Mobile Citizen offers a 45-day trial of a 4G LTE mobile hotspot. Setup and activation with our Mobile Citizen trial was incredibly easy. Plug it in and turn it on. The SSID is predefined and is displayed on the LCD display, along with the password. Here are links for FAQ list for Mobile Citizen and a contact form.

Mobile Beacon has partnered with Tech Soup to reduce the up-front cost even further by making available for donation to a non-profit up to eleven hotspot devices for a nominal administrative fee (limit of eleven in a fiscal year). Many organizations, including a collection of libraries in the Illinois Library System, have taken advantage of this offer to provide hotspot loaner programs and have reported good results. Here is a link to Tech Soup’s Mobile Beacon offer. If you have further questions, here is Mobile Beacon’s contact form. In addition to the hotspot device offered through Tech Soup, Mobile Beacon makes available a variety of devices, including some which are 3G-capable (for areas in which 4G is not consistently available) and some devices which can support more than ten clients. Getting started with Mobile Beacon is simple: turn on the device, allow it to activate, and start to use it. We did need to restart the hotspot device after the service activation was complete.

For organizations within the Sprint LTE coverage area with a large number of clients in need, Mobile Citizen offers a resellers program where they partner with agencies to resell the services to low income people who could not otherwise afford Internet service. The service is the same as that offered to non-profits, with a charge of $10 per month. The reseller is responsible for administration of the accounts, though Mobile Citizen will provide technical support. Mobile Citizen is looking to set up resellers in specific geographic areas, so we encourage our partners to work with other organizations in their community to explore this as an option to provide citizens with low-cost internet. For partners who provide computer equipment, it is a particularly attractive pairing, providing a computer that can be preconfigured with Internet service. Mobile Citizen is hoping for resellers to sell at least a thousand lines of service per year, in order to make a significant impact on low income end users. For more details, here is their contact form.

Additional information about these programs and other low-cost broadband access programs is available at: http://pbdd.org/low-cost-access-options/ We encourage you to make this information available to non-profits, libraries, and schools that you work with. Many organizations maintain a pool of devices which can be loaned to clients/students/staff members.

Katherine & Barry

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