Product Review: 3G broadband stick


25 Mar 2008

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Let’s start by saying that mobile broadband, when it is working, is a wonderful thing. Enjoying a sturdy internet connection no matter where you are, be it in your home, on a train or while out and about, is becoming almost indispensable for the modern worker.

Vodafone’s 3G broadband stick is the latest and smallest mobile broadband product on offer: it looks just like a compact memory stick that you can pop into your pocket or on your key ring, which is altogether very appealing.

If you require a longer cable to get better reception, there is also one included in the pack, alongside installation software that is straightforward and easy to use.

My problem with mobile broadband, though, is that it is often touted as a stop-gap solution to the lack of wired broadband in rural areas across Ireland and this is simply not the case across the board.

After thorough testing, I can tell you now that mobile broadband products – and I’m talking about those from all operators, not only Vodafone – just do not work in several rural areas of this country.

While visiting my parents in Laois, I found that 80pc of the time both this Vodafone broadband stick, as well as mobile broadband products from 3 and O2, failed to pick up a signal at all, and the rest of the time the signal was so weak that loading an average webpage was downright frustrating.

This particular area of Laois would benefit well from mobile broadband because fixed broadband from Eircom is not available and I wouldn’t hold my breath until it does come on stream.

While I have not surveyed countless people on mobile broadband coverage, I was casually discussing the issue with a colleague when I discovered none of these products worked where he lives in Meath either.

The coverage maps made available online for these products indicate that they work in these areas, so who exactly is getting decent mobile broadband speeds and who is being left in the dark?

It appears urban areas like Dublin city centre are a different matter. The Vodafone stick was clocking anywhere between 435 and 1010Kbps download, in comparison to the 1720Kbps I clocked on fixed broadband in the office. Using Speedtest.net, I clocked an average speed of 1621Kbps in the evening but I know for a fact that speed can be twice as fast early in the morning and up until late afternoon.

Unfortunately, the problem with all mobile broadband products is the contention ratio: the nice price and convenience encourages so many people to sign up that you are sharing a broadband connection with hundreds of other people to the point where it severely compromises the connection speed.

The Vodafone 3G broadband stick doesn’t suffer as much from this as other offerings on the market: I was definitely getting better download speeds and webpages were loading significantly faster.

It is hard to recommend a mobile broadband product to anyone when the connectivity and speeds are so variable depending on the location and time of day. I have known factors like double-glazed windows to affect a product’s performance.

It is as the nursery rhyme goes, when it is good it is very, very good but when it is bad it is horrid.

Pros: Web connectivity on a stick
Cons: Suffers same problems as all mobile broadband products
Price: €129 for the broadband stick; €14.99 for first three months and €29.99 per month thereafter

By Marie Boran