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.
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