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3 Pay-As-You-Go mobile broadband

What is it?: A little gadget which plugs into a USB port of your laptop, allowing internet access at broadband speeds anywhere you go. (Well, anywhere covered by 3's new high speed network and not in a basement or with thick walls. Probably best not to stand next to a tree, either...)

Price: £50 for a pack containing a USB modem, SIM card and USB wires. Top-ups must then be purchased to pay in advance for the amount of data downloaded:

  • 1 GB - £10.
  • 2GB - £15.
  • 7GB - £25.
Once activated, the top-ups are only valid for 30 days, whether the data allowance is used or not.

How does it work?

  1. You simply pick up a modem from any electronics store, put in the SIM card and plug it into your computer.
  2. The software installs automatically from the device itself.
  3. You are painlessly connected to the internet.
  4. It turns out you're only connected to 3's site and you need to buy a top-up.
  5. You register your credit card, only to discover that it takes seven days to be authorised. £10 is taken from it but you can't buy a top-up yet. Meanwhile, you start getting charged £1 PER MEGABYTE because you haven't bought a top-up yet.
  6. You go to Tesco and buy a top-up from the checkout.
  7. You trek back home in the rain.
  8. You log on, activate the top-up and get to keep up-to-date with all your favourite blogs for a month, even while on holiday (as long as you don't stand next to a tree in a basement).
(Some of these steps may not be entirely necessary.)

Comments: When Sprog1 was born, we didn't even have internet at home. When we finally got dial-up, I went online a handful of times a week. Then came broadband, wi-fi and this website. Now I start feeling unwell if I haven't checked my email for a couple of hours. The thought of being disconnected for a fortnight when we went on holiday this summer brought cold sweats and a rash.

After a bit of hunting around, 3 seemed the best (i.e. cheapest) option to provide mobile internet for a few days every so often. I suppose, technically, going to internet cafés would have been cheaper but it would have been far less convenient and secure. Also, I'd probably have lost out overall through stuffing myself with premium-priced coffee and cake.

There are subscription packages if you want to use mobile broadband all the time. You get the modem 'free' but you're tied in for eighteen months. The Pay-As-You-Go is more flexible. The main downside to the PAYG is that, although you pay for a certain amount of download capacity, you only get 30 days to use it. This is irritating but, if you simply look at it as a month of surfing for a tenner, it's still perfectly reasonable. (We didn't get through half our Gigabyte top-up in a fortnight.) You can now also buy the modem in a selection of starter packages where it comes pre-loaded with some download capacity. The time-limit for using this capacity varies, so they might be worth looking into, depending on your needs.

After a few initial teething difficulties (see above), the modem worked smoothly and without much faffing about. Speed wasn't quite on a par with our 2Mb home connection but this was seldom noticeable during normal surfing. Unfortunately, switching users in Windows Vista seemed to confuse the modem, causing some plugging and unplugging, coupled with a touch of frustrated muttering. This was nothing compared with the muttering that would have resulted from trekking to an internet café in the rain, though.

Having to pay for the amount of data downloaded rather than the amount of time spent online took some getting used to. It was pretty handy as I sat staring at a blank screen in Blogger, thinking of a hundred ways to describe gnomes, however.

The only question mark over the modem is signal strength. It's possible to check network coverage on a postcode by postcode basis but it's worth taking this information with a pinch of salt. We had better reception in a top floor flat in St Andrews than on the ground floor in central Edinburgh. When we next visit my parents in rural Norfolk, there's a good chance I'll have to climb a water tower to update this review.

Conclusion: Mobile broadband without a subscription. Great for staying online if you're taking a holiday in the UK. You'll want to examine network coverage carefully, though.

  • Relatively cheap.
  • Flexible pricing system.
  • Easy to use (provided you don't totally ignore the instructions like me).
  • Allows you to keep up with DadsDinner wherever you go.

  • Not so useful if you're going to be using it all the time...
  • ...or for a day or two every so often.
  • Quite a large amount of money to pay up-front if you're not certain about coverage.
  • Could go badly if you're hoping to use it in a basement in the middle of a forest.
Rating: 4/5.


Anonymous said...

I would agree, although I have just spent two days trying to access and register with my3! Finally got there, turns out the software needed updating to run with my system (windows vista) This was a bit of a mission, but armed with the right information i've just managed it, and other than that it pretty much does what it says on the tin!

DadsDinner said...

Yep, it works great once it's up and running but, as with so many computer related things, it's best not to rely on getting it set up in a hurry.