Product review: 3 wireless broadband modem


5 Jun 2007

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What is it about the promise of wireless broadband that makes us all seem to go weak at the knees? This seductive little promise has proved anything but faithful and since we heard first about the potential of 3G in the late Nineties it is only now that products that actually mean anything are coming into the shops.

I remember the damp squib that was WAP and the first wireless modem cards that operated at the same speed as a 56k dial-up modem.

In the late Nineties so-called industry analysts promised us an incredible wireless future consisting of video conferencing on the move, TV in your hand and the ability to work anywhere at the same speed as in the office.

Well guess what? Those products have been here for a few years but due to the fact that many of them are simply crap, barely work and are too expensive, many of us have barely batted an eyelid.

2007 was to be the year that this all changed with the onset of high-speed downlink packet access (HSDPA) that promised “real” broadband speeds of between 1.4MB to 3.6MB and beyond to your laptop. Both 3 and Vodafone have unveiled rival products and O2 is preparing to launch its product in the months ahead.

There was a bit of a spat late last year when both Vodafone and 3 each claimed to be first with their respective HSDPA cards at around 1.6MB.

While I’m happy to let them fight that out themselves, 3 has inched ahead with its latest 3.6MB offering at a tempting €19.99 a month and with a 10GB download limit.

This is good news. Since I’m obviously not an accountant and would (idealistically) rather broadband have no limits, a 10GB download limit is infinitely better than the 3GB limit with 3’s original service launched last year.

The previous HSDPA product from 3 was a PCMCIA card that slotted into your laptop. The latest device is an identical device to Vodafone’s HSDPA product (being made by the same manufacturer Huawei) that connects to your laptop via a USB lead.

Another plus compared with the older HSDPA card is that this device is optimised to work with Windows Vista, a wise move since all new laptops are Vista-based.

There is no fiddling around with software because as soon as you first connect the modem to your laptop it automatically uploads the necessary software for you and within minutes you’re off downloading movie trailers from YouTube.com.

I found 3.6MB to be a convenient speed that should draw in a number of kinds of broadband user, such as the business nomad that can’t be arsed buying Wi-Fi cards and coffee just to check their email or the cost-conscious student who could live with the €19.99 per month price.

And then people like me, still waiting for fixed-line providers to deem your area “economically viable” to provide you with what should be an unalienable right in a 21st-century developed economy.

The 10GB limit I think I could live with if I’m not online for eight hours a day. I put the device through its paces downloading movie trailers and checking mail and in a single day used just 117MB out of my allotted 10GB.

The device worked well in various places that I tried it out. However, because the modem kind of dangles on a 7-inch lead it’s not ideal if you’re hopping around an airport or trying to file an urgent report from a conference. 3 should look into providing some kind of clip-on holster for the device.

3’s HSDPA network covers approximately 85pc of Ireland’s population, so unless you’re planning on writing poetry from some hilltop in Donegal you should be okay.

The device itself costs €125 followed by a €19.99 monthly charge and is available in 3 shops nationwide.

Price: €129

Pros: Easy to install and 3.6MB wireless speeds
Cons: 7-inch cord is a little awkward

By John Kennedy