3G USB Broadband Modem Review

3 USB Modem

Submission by Keith Doxey – OK, I admit it….. I’m hooked on the Internet!  Whenever I am away from home I start to get withdrawal symptoms from not having Internet access.

Whilst in theory Wifi is a wonderful method of wireless connectivity, in practice it is far from ideal. Choices are limited to having a contract with a provider such as BT Openzone or paying for access on an AdHoc basis in a hotel or other hotspot.

For a year I had a valid BTopenzone voucher as part of my home broadband deal but got little opportunity to use the time I was allocated. I stayed at a hotel adjacent to a pub that had a hotspot I could used and even though my hotel room was less than 15 metres from the pub I could not receiver the signal from it, only the hotels Wifi network which was very expensive for a 24 hour session.

I now have free use of BTopenzone hotspots for upto 500 minutes per month as part of my broadband package but again there is a problem. The offer is only valid for GENUINE BTopenzone hotspots not those of its partners. My town lists 11 hotspots but only 2 are BT. The problem isnt limited to my area, of the 10535 hotspots listed on the Openzone website I can only access 1852 of them.

I searched and searched for affordable 3G connectivity but was hit time and again by the same hurdle. Data CAN be quite cheap on a mobile phone IF you have a contract phone. The problem I have is that although I have a mobile phone it is a Pay As You Go because I rarely use it. In over 2 years I have made only 4 hours worth of outgoing calls so a monthly contract would just be a waste of money. The problem with PAYG is that data is extremely expensive.

Finally I have found what seems to be the perfect solution for someone who wants lots of data but doesnt often use the phone – THREE BROADBAND!  Three currently offer three different packages

  • 1 Gbyte of data per month @ £10
  • 3 Gbytes of data per month @ £15
  • 7 Gbytes of data per month @ £25

(UPDATE – Three are now offering a PAYG (pay as you go) deal.  You buy the USB modem then just add credits as you use them.)

Any data over your allowance is charged at 10p per Mbyte, as such exceeding the 1Gb allowance by only 50Mb would result in that month costing the same as the 3Gb tarrif.

This service will also be of great interest to people that cannot acess normal boradband and cable services.  This is extremely good value when compared to say satellite braodband services.  There are plenty of locations when there’s no ADSL or Cable access available but there is good 3G signal.

The data modem supplied is the Huawei E220 USB Modem which a quick Google reveals to be about the £160 mark to purchase by itself. The cost of the modem from Three varies depending on the tarrif and the length of contract but for the £10 per month package it costs £99, £79 or £49 for a 12, 18, 24 month contract repectively. With the £15 month package the modem is totally free on the 24 month contract.

The modem arrives packaged in a DVD style case and comes with two cables, a short USB lead (approx  15cm) that just lets it dangle at the back of the laptop, and a longer lead about 70cm that has twin USB connectors on one end. One is the normal data connector and the other is to plug into another USB connector if your machine cant supply sufficient power for the modem.

I plugged the modem into my Laptop, a Dell Inspiron 1000 and Windows XP immeadiately detected new hardware. It said it found a CD-rom which confused me slightly but this clever modem contains its own software for installation onto the laptop. It installed the drivers and control application onto the laptop and was then ready to connect.

In less that 5 minutes from opening the box I was online via the Three 3G network. Everything seems to work exactly as if I were at home on a normal LAN connection and programs such as MSN and Yahoo Messenger function perfectly including voice communications.

Today I tried using the service whilst on the move to see how good it was. The maps below show UK 3G coverage and the coverage on my part of the world which basically only covers Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft and Norwich and a few other towns. The rest of Norfolk has 2G coverage which the modem will use if a 3G signal is not available.

I set the laptop up in the car and got connected to 3G. I then tuned into an internet radio station that I listen to at home on SKY or Freeview but have been unable to listen to on the move as it isnt on DAB in our area. Having got the radio station playing I went for a drive.

Streaming the audio was for the most part perfect but I did have a couple of short breaks I suspect that because I was in slow traffic and any momentary loss of connectivity would result in using up the buffer quite quickly whereas driving at speed any small blind spots would be quite trivial. I lost the connection as I got the the extremity of the 3G area as indicated on the map and 2G reception wasnt up the task of straming radio although I could access websites, albeit slowly. (Think I have been spoiled by broadband!)

I continued driving around with a 2G connection as I drove back into the 3G area to see if it would switch automatically but it didnt. I then lost the 2G connection and was able to reconnect to 3G. I havent yet found a way to automatically reconnect, dont know if that is possible or not.

Each time I reconnected I was given a diferent IP address. Looking at the coverage of my area, I suspect that there is a single cell for Great Yarmouth and one for Lowestoft with overlapping coverage. Next step for my mobile access is to drive from one end of the area to the other to see what happens as I move from cell to cell. Either I will switch seemlessly from one cell to the other or the connection will be dropped and I will have to manually reconnenct. Im hoping it only drops the connection when asignal is totally lost.

Overall I have to say that first impressions are VERY good and never again should I be left without internet access.

Three’s 3G USB Broadband Deals

Click HERE to read Keith’s follow-up post on how he’s found the device and service after several months real world use.

6 Comments on "3G USB Broadband Modem Review"

  1. In Edinburgh the speed is between a very unimpressive 20 and 30 KBS. This is South West Edinburgh and as recommended I have tried the laptop in different positions in the flat. It sems to be fastest in the evening. Apart from the very basics of reading e-mail and slow browsing you can not download videos etc. on the same day.
    I have talked to various Three technicians and they do say reception is patchy and things will get better soon. i UNDERSTAND THE PROBLEMS WITH NEW TECHNOLOGY BUT WHY WAS IT RECOMMENDED BY PC wORLD?

  2. Broadband User | November 18, 2008 at 4:22 pm |

    Stay away – whether this product works in your area is a complete gamble and Three will not readily honour their 14 money back guarantee without a threat of litigation.

  3. I have owned this dongle for over a year now and it has in my case a major drawback, it will not work anywhere apart from my front room at home, I have taken it for drives far and wide(I live in Northants), when I attempt to connect “data modem invalid” appears. The advertised download speeds are a trifle overblown, the maximum I ever have had is 1200 kbps, normally around 500 kbps (advertised at 3200 kbps).
    And as a by the by, it uses a lot of processor power.

  4. Martin118(Swansea) | January 6, 2009 at 11:15 am |

    This network and it’s Technical Support/Customer Services are by far the worst company I’ve had the misfortune to have dealt with. Operators have given me false names, I’ve been ignored, sworn at, hung up on, lied to, I’ve spent over £25 on an 08707 number (Escalated Tech Support) were they refused to call me back, used over 8hrs of my mobile talktime calling 1st line Tech Support and all this whilst paying for a service that has never and will never work to the advertised speeds, lowest speed was 17kbps, yes that’s 17kbps, the highest was 883kbps (tested at 5am) which is still well below what they advertise, trying to connect between the hours of 4.30pm and 3am is virtually impossible, After several months of getting nowhere via the chief executives office I resorted to e-mailing the Director of Customer Services [email protected] and had my contract cancelled. I’m lucky, if seen hundreds of reviews were 3 are refusing to cancel contracts, the general public need to be warned about this rip off company. “AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE…YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED”

  5. I have mixed feelings about my 3 mobile broadband service.

    It’s been very useful when I stay at hotels, or am somewhere stationary.

    But using it on a train is an immensely frustrating experience. The connection becomes so slow and unreliable that I would be better off turning my laptop off.

    I have spent hours looking at my laptop screen on trains, waiting for the connection to be good enough to be useable. I have often contemplated the idea that if I were to get two or three broadband connections all plugged in to my laptop at the same time then I would have the kind of connection speed that I require.

  6. Julian Wells | May 12, 2009 at 5:23 pm |

    I took out a contract with 3 mobile broadband through Carphone Warehouse in March 2008 and it took until November of that year for it to work. I have a thick file of correspondence with 3 and painful memories of frustrating hours on the premium call line to tech services and customer support. Carphone Warehouse eventually guided me to remove Microsoft Service Pack 3 (the auto update)from my laptop and the modemn started working. It has never come close to advertised speeds and 20 to 50 kbps is the norm. Just last month it stopped working again and I have not got the energy to start the complaints all over again. I am resigned to paying my £15 per month for nothing and just waiting until September 2009 when my contract ends and I can bin the thing.

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