The AT&T Option GT Ultra Express 3G modem is offered for free with a two-year contract, but its unreliability during our testing made this a frustrating device to use. When connected, this ExpressCard device's scores were good. Unfortunately, it didn't always find a 3G signal, even in places where its USB counterpart on the same network could.
The Ultra Express measures 3.7 inches in length, which is longer than other ExpressCard units, making it stick out further from our notebook. Because ExpressCards typically have a low profile, we usually prefer them over USB connectors, but this one is almost as awkward as a USB key. It sports a small slide-up antenna and a red and a blue indicator light.
In our office on the 21st floor of a building in Manhattan, the GT Ultra Express couldn't find a 3G signal at all, even when the AT&T USBConnect Mercury card could. When it did manage to connect, our Web site tests timed out after a minute and a half, and our download and upload speeds of a 25MB file were so slow over the EDGE network that we didn't clock them. It was, by far, the worst performer in this environment.
In New York's Penn Station, the GT Ultra Express' performance improved greatly. Compared with other ExpressCards, it notched the fastest upload speed (740 Kbps) when transferring a 25MB file from an FTP site, outperforming the Verizon Wireless KPC680 by 162 Kbps. However, the KPC680 had a much faster download speed of 1.3 Mbps, compared with 619 Kbps achieved by the GT Ultra Express.
Out in Long Beach, Long Island, the GT Ultra Express was able to download the 25MB file at a rate of 1 Mbps; that's slower only than the Sprint Merlin EX720 ExpressCard, which pulled in a rate of 1.2 Mbps. The GT Ultra Express was able to upload the file at a rate of 1.3 Mbps; the only card that ranked faster was AT&T's USBConnect Mercury, but only by 0.2 Mbps. Using the GT Ultra Express, loading CNN.com, ESPN.com, and NYTimes.com took 16, 19, and 23 seconds, respectively.
Unfortunately, in Long Beach, the GT Ultra Express would not always connect to the network, even after multiple tries. Sometimes after rebooting the computer, the card would search unsuccessfully for a data connection until we removed it and reinserted it. We didn't have that problem with the AT&T USBConnect Mercury.
While the Option GT Ultra Express had some very fast upload and download speeds, the connection issues we had make it too iffy to recommend, even though it's free. The AT&T USBConnect Mercury (also free) is a better product for AT&T customers; while its download speeds aren't as fast, it offers faster uploads and greater reliability.