The same week that AT&T announced it would offer customers a portable WiFi connector for long-range Internet access, Time Warner Cable has upgraded its portable WiFi gadget to connect up to eight laptops, tablets and gaming consoles at the same time.
Time Warner's previous incarnation of portable WiFi, introduced last year, worked with up to five devices at once, the same number that can be used with AT&T's just-announced Mobile Hotspot Elevate.
That gives Time Warner bragging rights, but it remains to be seen how many customers will actually connect eight devices at once to the Internet -- a feat that would require a very large family or some very nimble multi-taskers.
Like AT&T's gadget, Time Warner's IG2 Personal WiFi Hotspot works wherever there's cell phone coverage, letting users surf the Internet from a moving car, or turn an iPod into a GPS.
The Time Warner portable WiFi service costs $39.99 a month. If you sign a 2-year agreement, you get the device for $49.99. If you don't sign the agreement and go month to month, the device will cost you $179.99, but it's still $39.99 a month for the service.
AT&T's service costs $50 a month and is capped at 5 gigabytes of data. Above that customers will be charged $10 per gigabyte or portion thereof. The AT&T device is $69.99 -- after a $50 mail-in rebate.
So far so good, but there are other costs to consider.
The Time Warner device has a 3.5-hour battery life and comes with a free home recharger. If you plan a day trip that could run down your battery, consider a car adapter for an additional $14.99.
Time Warner's contraption is is so tiny -- smaller than a CD -- that it's just matter of time until it gets lost. Not to worry -- Time Warner's equipment protection plan, a $3.99-a-month insurance policy, will replace the mechanism. The insurance option may not appeal to all customers, since in one year the cost of the policy will exceed the cost of the mechanism itself.