Mobile Broadband

 

Vodafone connection signal strengthThe software shows signal strength and connection type.

If it says GPRS don’t expect blistering speeds.

3G based mobile broadband
My Datawind Pocket Surfer 2 gave me a taste for internet access away from home. Admirable as the PS2 is for a little light eMail and surfing it does fall quite a way short of the sort of internet experience you get at home on broadband.

Pricing
The Datawind PS2 subscription costs less than £4 a month and currently you can’t get onto mobile broadband that cheaply. But you can get close – as I am writing this page Three are offering a 5GB package for £7.50 a month on an 18 month contra
ct. Vodafone through Quidco is paying £90 back on any contract so 12 months on their 3GB package also costs £7.50 a month. This is cheaper than Datawind if you take into account the cost of the PS2 itself but of course you also need hardware for 3G broadband – typically this will be a laptop.

Implementation
It is possible to buy data ad-ons to a voice package and use a 3G phone as a modem but the simplest option is to take a seperate contract with a 3G USB modem. Plug one of these babies into a Windows powered machine and it will autoinstall all the necessary drivers and software to get you online in minutes. Some will work on MAC and some on Linux but these minority operating systems are certainly second class citizens right now. I imagine that situation will change though.

My own setup
Initially I tried a Three USB modem but despite their coverage map showing 3G in the two main locations of interest to me I found the performance was abysmal in both and it had to be returned. I have settled for Vodafone which gives me 1 – 2Mbps in one of my target locations. It is slower from the other but still usable. I would suggest that anybody seriously considering buying should check where the masts are as well as looking at the vendor coverage charts. The Ofcom mast location website www.sitefinder.ofcom.org.uk gives this information.

Vodafone usage

The software
In addition to the signal strength panel the bundled software shows how much download you have used. This is split between 3G and GPRS but the 3GB allowance is total. You should configure your own warning levels – the default is 50MB which is way too low to be of any use. Exceeding the limit, even by a tiny amount, will cost you £15 per GB or part thereof so it pays to check regularly.

By default the software applies compression to images which makes them very blocky and this cannot be turned off in the Lite software which gets installed from the device. The full version is supposed to have an option in the Settings menu to turn compression off but the version I installed from the supplied CD didn’t have this and the one I downloaded from the Vodafone website complained that the modem was unsupported.

Vodafone SMSAs well as mobile broadband you can send and receive SMS text messages.

There are no bundled SMS messages with my package.

Conclusion
If you want an internet connection in your pocket then you are stuck with either the Datawind Pocket Surfer or a Smartphone. Neither of these give an experience much like home internet. A USB mobile broadband dongle coupled with one of the current generation of tiny laptops is not as portable but is certainly a lot close to the “real” internet. I have made my own decision and have a Vodafone USB modem which I connect to my Advent 4211 and have sold the Datawind PS2 as I really can’t justify having both.

Update
As smartphones have developed so have mobile contracts for them. Some versions of Android allow the phone to work as a WiFi hotspot for your laptop and there are apps which will do the same thing if your phone doesn’t support this directly. If you use the more locked down iPhone then you’ll need to Jailbreak it to support this. Whichever way you choose most smartphone contracts prohibit such use and have quite small data caps so may not be suitable for extended use this way. An alternative option, and the one I ended up using, is an unlocked 3 MiFi which accepts any 3G SIM and works as a standalone WiFi hotspot for up to 5 devices. I got mine on eBay already unlocked sa it was as cheap as the locked ones and saved me installing the new firmware.



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