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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Joining the 3G dongle generation - what a bargain

I've written quite a lot recently about the uptake & user-friendliness of 3G USB modems for laptops. But while I've played around with quite a few demo ones, I've actually now gone out & put my hand in my pocket to buy one for my own 'official' use.

It's a Hutchison 3 HSDPA service, using a ZTE MF622 modem.

It is, quite frankly, astonishingly good value. Sure, the sign-up process in-store for a new business user account in 3's local store is a little clunky - the company mainly focuses on consumer users and their online provisioning/sales systems reflect this. The staff had to phone head office to find out how much the actual modem should cost me on my chosen tariff (12 months, 3GB/month cap) as although their pricing info had details for a consumer on the same plan, it wasn't in the system for businesses. In the end, they concluded that the modem is free for all business users irrespective of contract length (it would have been £70 if I'd subscribed personally over 12 months, or free for 18/24 months).

So how much does this cost? £12.77+VAT per month (basically $25). For 3GB, and no messing around with over-picky terms of service. Skype works fine (and is actually cited on the 3 website as a suggested use case). Streaming audio works fine. One quick test gave me about 700kbit/s downstream, though it allegedly should go at 2.8M if I sit next to a cell tower.

And if I travel, I can use it without roaming premium on 3's other partner networks (Italy, Sweden, HK etc). Off-net, roaming is about £3/MB for most European countries, or £6/MB for more obscure places. (ie painful, but no worse than 3's peers, as it reflects what I suspect are heinous wholesale data interconnect prices).

Going back to the pricing scale I proposed ages ago, this counts as a bargain. For comparison, Vodafone's price is double the price, and has more onerous (ie anti-VoIP) terms and more expensive roaming, albeit with perhaps more robust corporate-grade account signup & management. And it's certainly cheaper than using a hotspot at a conference or airport a couple of times a month. (For reference - T-Mobile UK charges £20 a month for its unlimited hotspot plan, albeit with a 30GB cap)

The only downside of it so far is that it seems to eat battery power rather quickly, especially where I'm on the edge of network coverage.


Anonymous said...

I would second your motion. I would like to add that I often use the 3 UK modem on UK trains traveling at 100 mph and it works at least 90% of the time!

Scot Grimmer said...


What do you think the split is between people using dedicated 3G/HSDPA devices like the T mobile modem you bought versus the inbuilt modem in their handset ? Which way do you think this is going to go ? Dedicated or Handset inbuilt.


Dean Bubley said...

Definitely a separate modem. Use of handset as a modem needs extra configuration to set it up, may need the user to switch on Bluetooth etc. Plus usually the chipsets (and 3G generation) in phones usually lag those in data cards by 12 months.

Also see my other recent posts for why I don't believe in 3G modems built into laptops either.

BBusyB said...

Three's rates are Definitely Good.

But i've found that for personal use, using one of their Skype Phones works out to be more versatile.

You can use it as a data modem when you want, and have Skype (and now Skype out Functionality) the rest of the time.

And I believe they've moved to make this functionality easier to use with the second generation of the Skypephone, with the software directly installable from the phone, like most 3G dongles, eliminating one major headache.