back to article Should I buy a USB HSDPA modem?

I'm thinking of buying a USB HSDPA modem because I travel to a fair few places that don't have Wi-Fi. But... since I have a 56Kbps modem in my laptop is a 3G modem really worthwhile? Yes, I know it should be much faster, but are they really? Reviews on Register Hardware suggest they're a long way off promised 7.2Mb/s speeds. …


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  1. Dominic Kua
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    Much faster yes

    I got one for my laptop from Three, who I already had a phone with and so got half price line rental.

    The 7Mb/s speed is apparently not in place yet, but is rolling out later this year. So currently I'm on the 4.2Mb/s which is pretty fast for transfers yes, but does suffer from latency. Normally it's only 200ms or so, which is fine for light gaming and web browsing, but not if you have anything to do which requires rapid reactions (I'm guessing work wise it's not an issue) then you might have trouble.

    I've noticed that retreiving web pages is quite slow on inital conection to a server, or after prolonged inactivity, but that file transfers and torrents can easily reach 200KB/s, which I find pretty respectable for a mobile device. There's also the added bonus that these HSDPA modems seem to be pretty Linux friendly.

    If you do a lot of data downloads, yes this will help a lot, but be careful as the upstream seems to be pretty limited, I've never passed 40KB/s on it. Otherwise, I'd stick to 56k

  2. Jon Hume


    The below comes from my own experience of the "three" option of USB modem and that of my colleague.

    I have had no problems at all, not once have I plugged it in and found that it didn't work. I have had decent speeds and always found it simple to use, both with mac and pc laptops and even on my pc desktop when my "proper" broadband was down.

    However, my colleague has had some real problems with his very similar but not identical modem. We went for a pitch meeting in Central London and found that the unit would connect fine but were sorely disappointed by the speed. So much so that we ended up using our emergency CAT5 cable and stealing internet from the client. Very embaressing.

    For those interested we still won the pitch, perhaps more by luck than judgement! The only other thing I would say is that even though 'three' are one of the cheapest, I really wouldn't advise going with them purely for their customer service which is at best poor and worst non-existent. Although my experience is good from what I have read since my early-adoption of the technology it seems to be the case that the service is patchy at best and although it will generally always be better than a 56k modem. Perhaps it might be worth holding on and seeing if the service settles down and one provider emerges with a reputation for a reliable service.

    Hope this helps!


    I think they're good

    I think they are good.

    Only Vodafone advertise 7.2Mb/s, and you cant only get that in major airports, voda head office and some parts of central london. Personally i think three offer the best option. They advertise 2.8Mb/s, but will actually connect at 3.6Mb/s in full HSDPA areas, which aren't all that rare. The prices are also the cheapest, so along with offereing the biggest 3G network in the UK, it seems like a good deal. Their customer care isn't great, but these dongles/sticks shouldn't have any problems, there's too little to go wrong.

    Tmobile offer free wifi access to their hotspots with their deals, for which you need a wifi enabled laptop, they dongles are not. This can be useful as wifi offers faster connections, as you'd expect, and tmobile have the hotspots all over, including some trains, and most starbucks.

    Voda are over priced IMO, and offer no real frills.

    All in all i think they are fairly awesome. I would get the THREE one, rememebr you can lways get them unlocked, just like phones.

    Mine's the one with the wallet being stolen out of by the other clerk...

  4. Jethro


    USB modem's are an excellent next generation move from classic PCMCIA or ExpressCard datacard's however:

    Ensure any specific locations you require coverage are checked before taking out a contract, providers do not guarantee coverage

    Just because the area has coverage does not guarantee service... 3G coverage is susceptible to shrinkage additionally busy hours can result in loss of service or degradation due to congestion. 3G is not an always on technology!

    USB devices that control or initiate network connections can be very hard to configure in rare cases, anti-virus or specific hardware issue can be a bugger... these things are not fault free!

    3G is fine and so is HSDPA. However try and acquire a HSUPA device to achieve increased upload speeds when released (1.8Mbps HSUPA will be arriving soon on Vodafone UK). Wikipedia or similar has info on HSDPA/HSUPA


    Your reported speeds of 4.2Mbps down and 40Kbps up sounds like a 7.2Mbps device. Most 7.2Mbps sites generally peak down speeds about 5Mb and the 40K up will just be 3G as HSDPA only provides downlink. Although I’m not sure if Three are using 3.2Mbps or higher currently so can’t confirm.

  5. Dominic Kua

    Ah the 4.3 was from memory

    It's not the download speed I get, which as I said, is normally around 200KB/s it can go higher though, but rarely.

    I remember being told that three were rolling out the 7.2 later this year when I bought it, but it is one of the 7.2 compatible modems.

  6. eugene

    watch that battery!

    Watch that battery usage! If your laptop's battery life is of a concern to you, a mobile phone that supports HSDPA will have its own battery, which will allow you to work longer on the move.

    Get one that can be charged over USB and it'll still work if you forget to charge the phone - plus you have a spare phone to use. :)

  7. Chewy


    Just to echo the point that it's worth checking coverage where you plan to use it first. Most trains lack the coverage while moving!

  8. Scott Mckenzie


    I have the latest Vodafone one, the one that resembles a Flash drive and it's fantastic.... incredibly fast, £15 a month for 5Gb transfer and i've yet to find an area where coverage is anything but 3G

    I've not tried the "3" ones but if the modem service is anything like their phones i'd personally steer clear.

    O2 i'd avoid like nobody's business, they may be improving their 3G network in view of the new iPhone, but as it is at the moment is way behind the others.

  9. André Marques

    A Phone also works with a couple of advantages

    If you get a smartphone/PDA with similar dl/up speeds you also get to access the web with no laptop, no lock-in (or a free/cheap phone depending on contract), along with other possible goodies... A new Nokia N or E series comes with a brilliant Voip client for cheap/free calls, you can sync with an Exchange server with you have one at work, etc...

    Of course it does add a layer of complication.

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