Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Affordable Mobile Broadband on the go with Three

During my short stay in the US, at least as far as I recall, most public places offered free Wi-Fi access. It is a commodity. In the land of high price/low value, I found to my astonishment that even Starbucks (who pioneered free Wi-Fi in their shops in the States) is charging £5 for local Wi-Fi access, which is outrageously expensive. Some independent cafes offer free Wi-Fi such as the excellent Tuttis in Holborn but they are a rarity. The alternative is to use pay-as-you-go services such as The Cloud but not all the places I go to use it as their Wi-Fi provider and I wouldn’t want to pay for a service I could not access everywhere (prices start from a hefty £4.50 per hour on pay-as-you go or £10 a month for subscription).

If you are a business nomad, you would want to consider Three’s mobile broadband offer. I am testing it courtesy of the folks at 3MobileBuzz.

The first SIM I received was faulty but I got it replaced quickly. This is my second experience with their call centre and I must say that once again they did a great job: professional and courteous. So dealing with it wasn’t the hassle I anticipated.

Setting-up your connection is pretty easy, at least on a Mac:
- Insert the SIM card in the USB modem. You only need to do that once.
- Plug-in the dongle
- When it mounts, click on the “Mobile Connect” application.
- Click on “Connect”.

That’s it, you are online.

Connection speed varies a lot. My very first test was at my school in Baker Street. The connection was unfortunately too slow to check-out my emails. I did subsequent trials at various locations around London and the speed was good enough to check emails and surf the web. I plan to try a Skype video call this weekend, which would be the ultimate deal clincher for me.

Three has a special offer and retail their USB modem from £49.99. On contract plans, you get 1GB allowance for £10, 3GB for £15 and 7GB for £25. This is similar to the 2 other companies offering mobile broadband in the UK: Vodafone is also charging £15 for 3GB allowance so is T-Mobile. The latter has an “unlimited data” plan, which is in fact a 10GB allowance for £35 a month. Telecom plans are notoriously difficult to compare as companies have all incentives to make it look like it is different from their competitors so I am going to ask a few questions to my contacts there so I could work out where the real value is in the market.

In the meantime, I will make the most of the sunshine with some outdoor blogging.


Anonymous said...

Have you seen the new mobile broadband smartphone from BT. Looks pretty smart, very similar to BlackBerry.

It's useful having a USB dongle, but having a device that lets you read email on the go without lugging a laptop around has got to be a good thing.

I wrote an article on the new mobile broadband device on my blog yesterday.

Anonymous said...

Hi Joel,

I've been using the 3broadband dongle for a while now and the only qualms that I have with it is the terrible 3dashboard and the unpredictable coverage.

However, neither of those things should take away from the fact that the concept (and presumably the future versions) is/will be excellent.

Surely it's only a matter of time before everyone uses this as opposed to traditional broadband?