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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Differential pricing for handset and laptop data - and a solution?

I've noticed an interesting trend recently to have different data tariffs applicable to 3G laptop modems, Internet-capable handsets and PDA-type devices.

In general, the phone-based data services are more expensive in per-MB terms, and more constrained in terms of service (VoIP-prohibited etc). Certainly in the UK, there are no low-cost data-only 3G contracts. And increasingly, the operators are loading the phones with all sorts of software and applications to dissuade you from accessing the real Internet.

T-Mobile only sells Web'n'Walk these days in conjunction with a quite pricey Flext voice & SMS contract - which is fine if you're a one-device sort of person, but personally I like to have a mobile data-only device for email & web browsing, separate from my phone. A two-device strategy also means it's billable to Disruptive Analysis Ltd rather than Dean Bubley Esq to make life easier for my accountants (and reclaim the VAT).

It's intensely annoying that I can't buy a sensible data-only tariff for handheld devices (with or without a subsidised device), which also comes with sensible roaming charges & ideally some form of WiFi-friendliness.

(I'm presuming here that I can't buy a £10 a month Hutchison 3 USB modem with 1GB/month cap, and just put the SIM card in a 'vanilla' smartphone instead.... but maybe I can?)

Anyway - frustation has led me to ponder alternatives - and I came up with this:

We all know it's possible to use a phone as a 3G modem for a PC, connected via Bluetooth or USB.... but what about the other way around? Can I get a cheap PC-based 3G card and somehow use it (while the PC is turned off or in standby/hibernate mode) as a modem for my phone? Or better still, could I just have a standalone 3G modem dongle incorporating a battery and Bluetooth and a basic OS so it can be accessed via any device you have?

Just musing, but it increasingly seems sensible to separate your 3G data access device from your 3G data application device, so you can benefit from the best tariffs, Internet-access QoS and policies and so on.


Anonymous said...

A while back, a company called IXI Mobile tried pushing a "Personal Mobile Gateway" which provided connectivity services to companion devices. I reckon we'll be seeing something like that revived in the future, but with a software-defined radio choosing from a range of bearer networks.

Anonymous said...

I mean, I suppose you could use a laptop's 3G card as a modem for your mobile. But...that's an awfully big hunk of hardware to lug around, thereby defeating the point of mobile convenience.

Dean Bubley said...

Obviously you'd only use the laptop's connection when you had the thing with you anyway - or if you were using the handset in the home or office, within Bluetooth (or maybe WiFi) range of a PC on broadband or the LAN.

But a personal mobile data gateway could well itself be phone-sized itself, so less of a burden if it's in a pocket or small bag.