Step 1 – Research the providers. Read the official informational Web pages for all five major 4G wireless mobile broadband networks: AT&T, MetroPCS, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon (see Resources). Check their coverage maps to find out whether your area has 4G connectivity.
Step 2 – Check pricing systems against one another. Carriers may offer unlimited data for a flat price, or they may break up pricing into tiers based on gigabytes of data transfer. One common model for wireless laptop data cards is $50 to $60 a month for 2 GB of data, plus a per-megabyte overage premium. Exercise restraint when wireless carriers dangle free phones as bait to lock you into exorbitantly priced data plans.
Step 3 – Visit the brick-and-mortar stores of your local 4G wireless carriers. Talk to their front-of-house employees. Ask how long 4G has been available from each carrier. The longer a 4G carrier has operated in a particular area, the more time the carrier will have had to optimize the network. Ask what customers are saying about each carrier’s 4G networking products, such as smartphones and wireless laptop data cards. Reliability is based on 4G-ready products as well as the networks themselves.
Step 4 – Talk to friends, family and co-workers about their existing and past 4G data carriers. Find out whether they have found their 4G coverage to be consistently fast in real-world use, whether it was worth the money and whether carrier customer service was responsive. Learn from the tribulations and triumphs of existing 4G customers, boots-on-the-ground.
Step 5 – Read reviews by 4G networking experts and consumer electronics watchdogs. Trusted publishers include Ars Technica, Consumer Reports, CNET, GigaOm, Gizmodo, Mashable, TechCrunch and Wired. A few of these are listed in the Resources section of this article.