Mobile broadband – USB dongle modems

I’ve been playing with a mobile broadband for the past few weeks, with a USB modem dongle courtesy of 3mobilebuzz. In return for a three months free trial – free loan of the hardware, with free (unlimited) data usage – the deal is that I have to post my thoughts about it. So here goes 🙂

Huawei E169 modemThe idea
The EEE PC, and the slew of EEE PC alternatives that have followed it, have started to get more people thinking about mobile computing. It’s now possible (and not too expensive!) to have a fully-fledged personal computer that is so small that you can leave it in the bottom of a bag and have it with you all the time on the off-chance that it might come in useful. And so light that you’ll barely notice.

I love the EEE PC. You can do a surprising amount of work on such a small machine. With the built-in wifi, if I’m at home or in a coffee shop, I can get online and do even more.

But that leaves a lot of places where I can’t get it online.

And that’s what appealed about the idea of mobile broadband dongles. Because for the size and weight of something like a USB memory key in the bottom of my bag, the EEE PC can now be online (pretty much) anywhere.

Plug it in, wait a few seconds, and it’s online. Internet access anywhere, anytime. Proper Internet. That is a very cool thing.

Asus EEE PC at StarbucksThe practicality
I’ve already written about getting it working on Linux. In short, it’s a pain in the ass. It took a fair amount of hassle to figure out how to do it.

But (a) 3 don’t claim that it should work on Linux (it’s Windows/Mac only), and (b) the newer models they sell all apparently work fine on Linux and the EEE PC out of the box with no hacking needed. So I don’t think it’s too fair to bash them for this.

And on a Windows laptop, it works great. It connects quickly, and the connection has been fast and reliable. As much as I am a fan of Internet on smartphones, sometimes you need the full keyboard and screen resolution of a laptop.

The Windows drivers that get loaded when you first plugin does come with some 3 software to manage the connection. Eurgh… I hate having stuff like this installed on my machine, it’s bloated enough already. I wish they’d give you the option to just get the bare minimum drivers without needing their app to manage it.

Still, perhaps I’m not a typical user – I’m not paying for this data. If I was paying by the MB, perhaps I’d be more appreciative of an application that let me monitor my data usage?

The cost
So I love the idea – get any machine online anywhere, anytime.

Now the awkward bit… the cost.

As with most call-plans, there are lots of options. You can see the costs for three’s data plans on their website – but in short, you can pay £10, £15 or £25 a month, depending on whether you want an allowance of 1GB, 3GB or 7GB a month. And you can get it in Pay Monthly or Pay-As-You-Go flavours.

I’ve not done a lot of shopping around to compare prices, but from a quick look around, that looks like it’s about as good a price as you can get at the moment. That said, if you thinking about mobile broadband, price comparison sites like have started to feature mobile broadband offers, so they’re probably a good place to start.

I’m thinking we’re not at the point where you could replace your home broadband with this. With the top-range plan offering a 7GB allowance, that’s not enough. (For a Internet-addicted geek like me, anyway). So I’d be looking at paying for home broadband, and mobile broadband.

And I’ve got used to having my smartphones online all the time. I’m on the T-Mobile web’n’walk deal (unlimited internet for £7.50 a month) and I love it. (In fact, it’s pretty much the only thing I love about them, cos their coverage is shocking around here!).

So I could end up spending £16 a month for home broadband, £7.50 a month for phone broadband and say £10 a month for mobile broadband.

Would I be happy to spend £33.50 a month to have Internet access anywhere, anyhow?

Not sure… sounds like a bit of a lot. The networks seem to be aware of this, and combo packages have started to appear. For example, 3 offer half price for the mobile broadband deals if you have a phone contract with them as well. £5 a month for mobile broadband starts to look pretty attractive… well, it might if I liked the looks of any of the phones they offered.

It’s a shame, because as I was reading earlier today, 3 have started to get really interesting, but I’m a smartphone geek, and that’s not something that 3 seem to be interested in. Either 3 need to get some more top-end mobiles, or the other networks need to start offering combo packages too.

In the meantime, I’m loving my trial. I’m very grateful to 3mobilebuzz for letting me play with it for a few months, and I’m ever so slightly scared that I’m gonna get too used to this by the time it comes to give it back! 🙂

Tags: , , , ,

2 Responses to “Mobile broadband – USB dongle modems”

  1. What about dropping the dongle and using a smartphone as a bluetooth (or even USB) modem for the EEE? Since you have unlimited traffic, looks like a fine choice.

  2. dale says:

    Bluetooth isn’t an (easy) option – the EEE PC doesn’t have Bluetooth

    USB is a tricky one – although Windows Mobile can share it’s internet connection with a Windows PC very easily, with Linux it much more complicated. Almost more hassle than it’s worth.

    I’ve played with sharing the connection over WiFi but the problem with running 3G + WiFi on your phone is that it saps the battery *really* quickly.