Verizon Improves Modem, Still Lags Rivals

Let's take Verizon on a little road trip, shall we?

Small-business owners face the same dilemma every summer: buy fancy mobile broadband service from Verizon Communications (VZ) , Sprint Nextel (S) , AT&T (T) or T-Mobile, or suck it up and rely on Wi-Fi networks at local libraries and Starbucks (SBUX) .

On one hand, wireless broadband modems are easy to use and offer secure connections to our increasingly virtual offices. Simply plug in one of the USB or PC card-based modems, load some software and wait for the computer to do its thing. All the headaches you tried to escape will be in front of you again.

On the other hand, modems can be finicky about connecting to the Web in some locations. They're not cheap: usage runs $60 a month on top of your regular bill. They require extra equipment to share a data line among several users. And they're slow; Wi-Fi and wired service are about two or three times faster, in my experience.

Verizon's data service, in particular, has never been worth the cost. The company runs the tightest ship in the phone business, but its data network can be difficult to access and doesn't accept as many devices as competitors. And its software, VZAccess Manager, isn't as compatible with PCs and Apple (AAPL) computers as the packages of other major carriers.

Verizon says it's upgrading its wireless modems. I have been testing the USB760, which costs $70 when you sign up for a two-year plan, to assess the situation.

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