What are Wireless Modems?

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  • Written By: R. Kayne
  • Edited By: L. S. Wynn
  • Images By: n/a, George Dolgikh, Victoria Andreas, Subbotina Anna, Petr Malyshev
  • Last Modified Date: 06 October 2019
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Wireless modems are devices that allow computers to connect to a wireless local area network (WLAN) without physical cabling such as ethernet wiring. They use cellular, satellite or WiFi protocols to connect to a WLAN, which can then provide Internet service. This differs from dial-up and DSL modems which use telephone lines to connect to the Internet, while cable modems use cable TV lines for connectivity.

For mobile applications, a PCMCIA wireless modem card in a laptop can provide access to the Internet through public "hotspots." These are geographical areas where WLANs allow public Internet access via these type of modems. In some cases a small membership fee is required, while other hotspots are free.

Various wireless networks use proprietary protocols, and wireless modems are certified as compatible with certain architecture(s). Some protocols, like CDPD (Verizon), GPRS and EDGE (AT&T and Cingular), are even slower than dialup; while Cellular UMTS (AT&T) and 1xRTT (Verizon) wireless networks can operate at about 300 kilobits per second (kbs). A newer cellular flavor offered by Verizon and Sprint, EVDO, advertises speeds of 400-700 kbs, rivaling broadband packages. Future technologies including Cingular's HSDPA and Verizon's EVDV promise even greater speeds.


Another popular network for mobile wireless modems is WiFi (Wireless fidelity), which can operate at a respectable 400 kbps. WiFi is used in many Internet cafés and other hotspots. WiFiMax is a newer standard that offers even faster speeds and more features.

Since wireless modems are certified as being compatible with particular standards and protocols, you should be sure the modem you purchase has the capabilities required for the network(s) you wish to connect to.

General features to look for in wireless modems are:

  • Modem speed.
  • Protocol(s) supported: Ethernet, CPCD, GPRS, ISDN, EVDO, WiFi, etcetera.
  • Frequency band: 900mhz, 2.4 GHz, 5 HHz, 23 GHz, VHF and UHF.
  • Radio technique: direct sequence spread spectrum, or frequency hopping.
  • Number of channels for transmitting and receiving.
  • Maximum Signal Strength.
  • Full duplex capability vs. half-duplex (full duplex permits simultaneous transmitting/receiving for faster data transfer).

DSL or cable Internet access in your home or office can also be set up with a wireless broadband modem. In this case all computers in the household can communicate with the broadband modem through wireless network adapter cards, thus eliminating the need for a physical wire between every desktop/laptop and the modem. The wireless network cards, which can be PCMCIA or external adapters using a USB port, should be of the same manufacturer as the wireless modem/router, or clearly state they are compatible with such.


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Discuss this Article

Post 8

I purchased a wireless USB connect modem to use with my laptop from Cricket. I love the service but I hate dealing with Cricket. They charge $3.00 for me to pay them cash in their store! Outrageous to me and there were lines of people. But I do like the service and don't know of anything comparable.

I got rid of my land line and have an AT&T cell phone, which I love. It's a go phone, so no contract. Cricket modem is also monthly, with no contract and I like that as well. Total pay for both is about $110 per month.

Anyone have other suggestions? I don't have credit so don't suggest contracted options. Thank you.

Post 7

Sounds great! unfortunately, living in a remote area is not compatible with wifi. Here's hoping technology catches up with us poor folk in the country.

Post 6

Are modems a layer one device or a layer two. Does it function under half duplex or full duplex?

Post 5

I have a wireless modem and absolutely love the home network set up. This article was a huge help. Thanks.

Post 4

I just purchased a wireless card for my laptop. The card is a LAN cardbus. I can't seem to get it to connect. Do I need a modem other then my Time Warner modem? I use to have a wireless card and I also had the Linkes modem. It worked fine. What do I need to do or buy?

Post 3

I am confused about the range specs of G, G+ and N! are they all compatible? I am considering buying a N system, but will my children's laptops using G standard work with it? Mike T

Post 2

This was a very informative article...just what I was looking for. I received more information from this article than my ISP provided me. Thanks.

Post 1

It would be SO NICE to have a wireless modem - I have no complaints at all about my computer setup except that there are so many wires to get in the way of everything! If I had a wireless modem, keyboard, mouse, printer... life would be so much less cluttered up with all these wires.

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