How to Choose a Modem

How to Choose a Modem

The market is flooded with wireless modems — if your ISP didn’t provide a wireless modem when you ordered your wireless service, choosing the right wireless modem can be a serious headache.

A wireless modem is a device necessary to access the Internet via a wireless network on your computer or electronic device (like a PDA). A wireless modem gives you the ability to “unplug” from your modem and use your Internet-enabled device anywhere in your home, with ranges as wide as 300 feet. Yes, you can use eBay or check your email on your back porch.

Because wireless modems differ widely (depending on what they will be used for and what devices you’ll be connecting to) it is more important to choose the right wireless modem than to choose the right wireless provider.

Check for Compatibility

First — know that there are two basic types of wireless modems, internal and external. Figure out which type of wireless modem you need. Internal modems will require installation into your computer, and are normally installed at manufacture, though some people want to “trick out” their older PC by having an internal wireless modem installed. For those of you who are looking to spend a little less for your wireless access, go for the cheaper (and easier) external modem.

Always be sure the modem you’re going to buy is compatible with your computer. You can find this out by talking to the salesperson providing the modem, looking on the modem’s box for compatibility information, or you can break down and ask someone at your ISP for a wireless modem recommendation.

How to Choose a ModemAnother aspect of compatibility — you need to know if you’ll be using just a computer, a laptop, or a PDA of some sort with your wireless modem. Different devices have different “ideal” modem setups. In some cases, fancy new cell phones act as a wireless modem but before you go depending on your Samsung for a hotspot, check with the phone company. You may need a wireless modem after all.

What Type of Wireless Network Do You Have?

Figure out the “type” of network you will be connecting to using wireless Internet.

There are three big names in wireless these days — CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access), CDPD (Cellular Digital Packet Data) and GPRS (General Packet Radio Service). There are a handful of others, but most customers will be dealing with one of these three types. You have to buy a wireless modem that fits with your wireless service. My ISP offers GPRS wireless service, and I had to find a wireless modem that is GPRS-compatible.

How Fast Is Your Wireless?

The “speed” of your wireless network is easiest to gauge by understanding the data transfer speed over your home wireless connection. Since different types of wireless connections have different speed limits, this can give you a clue how fast your wireless can go. You’ll need to buy a wireless modem that can handle the top speeds of your wireless network, otherwise you’re wasting money on a fast connection that you can’t catch up with. My GPRS connection can go as fast as 56 kbps, while the lowly CDMA moves at a relative snail’s pace of 14.4kbps. Remember to buy a modem that can handle the speed of your Internet service.

How Big Is Your Wireless Network?

Depending how you’ll be using your wireless modem, you may need a modem that can work internationally (serviced by GPRS-capable modems) or a good modem for domestic coverage, like a CDMA modem.  Put simply, you need a wireless modem that is built for your coverage needs.

What ISP Are You Using?

There are three kinds of wireless modem interfaces used in by ISPs — PCMCIA, USB and serial port. The “interface” is basically the way the wired connection hooks up to the wireless modem.  Honestly, there’s no reason to buy anything less than  a wireless modem with USB interface. This interface is more flexible. If you’re using a PDA or a wireless-Internet capable cellphone, you may need a Bluetooth or 802.11b wireless interface — if this is the case, don’t forget that you can connect to the Internet via your Bluetooth device’s wireless connection.

Check For Advanced Features

When buying a wireless modem, check to see it has all the latest features — at very least, your wireless modem will need USB and Ethernet cable connectivity, backward compatibility equipment, enhanced security features, PC and Mac compatibility, etc. Depending on what your using your wireless network for, your features needs will change — but these features are the basic advanced features that any good wireless modem has these days.



Take a long look at your wireless modem’s security features. Every wireless network is vulnerable to security issues, no matter how secure, but buying a highly secure wireless modem is the first step towards protecting your wireless network. Shop only for wireless modems that contain added security features like “64-/128-bit WEP” (meaning “Wired Equivalent Privacy”) and something called WPA, which means Wi-Fi Protected Access. In truth, the most important security decisions you’ll make about your wireless network come after installation, with added software and security settings, but purchasing a wireless modem that will allow you to secure yourself as much as possible is a must.

Don’t buy any wireless modem on sight — prices are different from vendor to vendor, so shop and compare. Go online to shop for wireless modems, the prices are always lower on the web.

Buying a wireless modem may seem even more complicated now — in truth, if you buy any of the higher-end modems at your favorite online retailer, you’ll pretty much own the right modem. Do some basic research on your own to find out what kind of network you’re on and buy a compatible modem with good security features. The rest of the work is up to your ISP and to your skills in setting up your wireless network. Hopefully, you’ve started out with a good piece of wireless network machinery to build your network on.

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