back to article Mobile broadband: What's it for?

In the next few weeks (hint: CTIA is in three weeks) I'm expecting mobile operators to be offered a new tool, which will allow them to work out what on earth their mobile broadband customers are doing. The mystery, however, is not "what is this tool, Guy?" - all will become clear quite quickly. What is mysterious is the answer …


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  1. Mister_C

    Here in KC land...

    Moblie broadband = competition

    Slow data rates & poor availability are one option.

    Or go mobile. And get a "free" laptop too if you're canny.

  2. John

    Can't believe they call it broadband

    I recently got 3's pay-as-you-go mobile broadband. £50 for the modem and £15 a month for 3GB. I went for this as I have a 6 month contract on my flat, BT have the area sown up, and demand 18 months minimum contracts. 3 is the only mobile broadband to offer pay-as-you-go, as of 2 months ago.

    I can't believe they call 30KB/s broadband!! Sure I've had 100KB/s out of it occasionally, but I've also had it running at 3KB/s. The speeds are more like dial-up. Forget streaming anything like you tube or iPlayer. In fact, the BBC doesn't recognise me as being in the UK, so I can't get any of the clips or anything. Make sure you have an ad-blocker and seriously consider a flash-blocker.

    Then there is the problem that on connecting it often gives you a DNS of which go nowhere. I often have to connect 6 or 7 times before I get a sensible DNS that actually works.

    Grumbling aside, it is nice to sit in the park and have internet, not having to worry about WIFI and any associated charges (ala Heathrow).

    I can happily report that the Huawei E220 modem works under Fedora 9 and Ubuntu 8.04. To get text messages you need to know a bit of minicom, but we all remember how that works, right?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    3 mobile BB is junk

    3's mobile broadband is usually slower than GPRS (ie under 100kbps) in Brum, Leicester, Derby or Nottingham. It reaches the heady heights of 500kbps at about 3am or so. Upstream is artificially limited to 56kbps - although 3 give you a load of guff about how that's all HSPDA can manage. Strangely 300kbps upstream was possible until June or so this year....

    It is, in short, complete junk. Don't waste your cash or if you must buy it then get pay as you go.

  4. william

    My Business users are converting to Vodafone BroardBand

    Regus charge £70 / Month / User - Vodafone charge £14 / Month

    My application takes 10 Minutes to obtain it's startup data via Regus but 1 Minute via Vodafone mobile broadband (also 1 Minute via Zen) so I cannot complain.

    I'm also looking at getting it as a backup to my very fine Zen ADSL Line, as I cannot afford to be disconnected.

    Many people in serviced offices should be looking at mobile broadband based on our experience.



  5. Solomon Grundy

    WIFI Charges

    from John - "it is nice to sit in the park and have internet, not having to worry about WIFI and any associated charges"

    How does it matter if you're not paying WIFI charges but you're paying mobile broadband charges instead - which I might add you say sucks. Maybe I'm not understanding something but the math on your calculations seems to be quite odd.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    RE Can't believe they call it Boadband

    Similar sort of story here. I'm up in Tayside, Scotland. I signed up to the same package a year or so ago and frankly, am p****ed off with their level of service. I checked with their own website for local availability and was assured that I lived smack dab in the middle of their HSDPA coverage - even at work I was supposed to be "covered". It took me three weeks of crawling round the flat with a 10m USB cable trying to find a decent signal reception point and after all that, never managed any more than 2 bars strength.

    At work I got a full signal and thought "Great, now for some decent surfing...".

    I've never gotten more than 900kbs at any time, it generally sits around 500kbs. I'm paying £15/month for 3MB..... I was looking forward to keeping up with the Olympics but just like John, was told that I didn't live "in the right Territory".... I'd love to know where the Beeb think Scotland is..... floating off the coast of South Africa perhaps??

    Don't know about other 3 users, but over the last 6 months I've noticed a strange link between clouds and no service availability. One wee puffy white cloud appears on the horizon and bingo - no signal, no aerial detected, no nothing. Anyone else got the same issue?

    I'm tied to an 18 month contract ending in a month or so and won't be continuing with it.

  7. Simon Booth

    The games player

    I also purchased 3's USB gizmo but only plan to use it extremely rarely as I have 'proper broadband' at home.

    A good friend is slightly outside WiFi range (we've tried) so a perfect solution presented itself.

    As I'll very rarely use the thing lent the device to a neighbour so she and her kids can play WarCraft on the PC and XBox games - via network sharing and a PC handling comms in the case of the XBox of course.

    For the last three months my friend been more than happy to spend 15 quid a month for 3Gb of which she uses under 2Gb - all for the sake of playing games.

    The thing is that while my friend loves the Intenet and games there's no way she's going to commit to a contract with a broadband supplier.

    The USB modem is treated exactly the way their mobile phones are treated - top it up and forget about it

    If the mobile companies start selling this kind of kit that kids can simply plug into their games consoles via a network cable then such devices would be as ubiquitous as mobile phones are with teenegers these days

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Hmmm Depends where you live!

    I'm getting some good service from 3 (also via Linux and Huawei). True, its not the 300kbit/s of home, but 30kbit/s is good enough for mobile working.

    Oh, and they don't seem to count data over ssh....

  9. John

    @ Solomon Grundy

    Hi Solomon,

    I have no choice but to go for 3's pay-as-you-go. I can't get a regular broadband connection as BT want 18 months minimum contract. I am only in the flat for 6 months before I skip the country. BT are the only ISP that can serve my house. As I say, 3 are were the only provider to offer pay-as-you-go as of 2 months ago. Vodafone want 24 months!!!

    Bit of a crappy situation, I'll see what the French ISP's are like in February.

    If you have a choice about it, <u>DO NOT GET</u> mobile broadband, it's like going back to 2001 speeds.

  10. Danny
    Paris Hilton

    i think...

    I think he means WIFI security and the extortionate hotel/airport/train charges for internet.

    Paris, she charges extortionate amounts for her bandwidth

  11. Neil Woolford

    If you've forgotten how to work minicom, u cn still txt.

    As John posted, "I can happily report that the Huawei E220 modem works under Fedora 9 and Ubuntu 8.04. To get text messages you need to know a bit of minicom, but we all remember how that works, right?"

    I've forgotten the minicom AT command stuff that I had to learn to get a GPRS card working under Ubuntu a few years back; this time round I'd suggest using the Vodafone Mobile Connect Card driver for Linux (it's on betavine, google including 'Linux'). Despite the Vodafone Card branding it configures easily for other services and devices (ok, I've not checked it with a USB device, but it looks like it should...).

    The icing on the cake is a nice easy text message interface.

    The software isn't perfect, with some interface glitches and for some reason it doesn't seem to receive system texts like "you have topped up" but it is usable.

  12. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

    @John and others

    I've been doing 3 mobile on Ubuntu (6.06 and 8.04) for about 6 months, and can confirm some of your problems, but they can be worked around.

    When used with the supplied Windows software, 3 Mobile hard-codes the IP addresses of the DNS servers. If you can get the HSDPA modem set up as a managed network, hardcode the 3 DNS servers to be put in when you start the managed network, and make sure that the option to use the provided DNS servers is off. You can use Locations to condition different sets of DNS and default routes if you also use your system on other networks.

    The throughput is probably being throttled by the USB TTY modules, which have an effective limit of about 60KB/S. Google for info on the hacked airprime modules and the Huawai modem. This allows reads and writes in units of more than one character at a time, and allows a higher peak rate. I'm using the ZTE modem, which is another kettle of fish, which requires re-compiling airprime to put the USB ID's in the code. Then all you need to put the right udev rules in to load the airprime module rather than the USB TTY module.

    I regularly get more than 100Kb/S, but have noticed that

  13. Peter Gathercole Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    but have noticed that...

    ... I sometimes forget to complete comments!


  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mobile Broadband rip off

    I have just signed up to 3 Uk for mobile broadband but to be honest the whole thing is a scam. I will pay £15 for 5Gb limit but if I go over that I will have to pay 10p per Mb, or £100 per Gb! What a fecking rip off!

    It is interesting to see people mention that the speed is not advertised as that will be my get out clause when being tied to an 18-month contract. If the coverage and speed are poor then I will either negotiate a discount or just claim the service 'is not fit for purpose'.

  15. Anonymous Coward

    3 is the only option on PAYG?

    I don't think so...

    You can use your 3G enabled phone as a modem via cable/bluetooth if it supports it, or get a second hand dongle or laptop card for any network on eBay.

    T-Mobile, Vodafone, and Orange all do mobile broadband for a fixed cap of £1/day on PAYG, so you won't have to pay on the days you don't use it.

    Check the small print though, some say you are not supposed to use it as a computer modem (how do they know?!), and may have a data cap too.

    Fine if all you want to do is check your email or visit low bandwidth websites.

  16. Avi

    @William RE: Vodafone Business Users

    Having had awful coverage from Vodafone on company phones here, we've recently conducted an informal comparison of Vodafone Business versus Vodafone 'normal' by basically getting a payg vodafone sim and asking people to see if it has any coverage when their company mobile doesn't.

    In general, it does.

    I'm not overly surprised, though, many of the places the business sims weren't getting coverage were within central London...

  17. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

    @John again

    "BT are the only ISP who can serve my house".

    You sure? Normally if BT can serve an address, they will also offer the service through BT Wholsale. This normally allows other ISPs to provide service, even though you are using BT "Last Mile" infrastructure. This is even the case if the ISP is not able to install equipment at the exchange "because of space or power restrictions".

    I know that Virgin Media (spit, hold out Holy Cross for protection) used to offer no minimum period ADSL contracts, although having checked the current smallprint, it looks like they now have a 12 month minimum contract.

  18. Andy Hards

    I've been with 3 for about 6 months

    and have not had any probs. Yeah it's not that fast, but it's through a dongle so I wasn't really expecting it to be that fast. Still watch streamed movies on it. Cos I'm an existing customer I got 7gb for £12.50 per month and that's fine. If you're worried about the high cost if you go over your limit, make sure you don't go over your limit. If you want something faster, get a cable. If you want the convenience of PAYG then stop moaning that it's not as good as cable.

    Jeez some people like to moan.

  19. rick buck

    Broadband speeds to your wallet...

    In the Us, we have vERIzON, and I signed up for the 5Gig/Month @$59.00/Month plan. Speed was supposed to be 3-5 Gb/s, but rarely exceeded 1000Kb/s. I had 30 days to "Test Drive" the service and if I did not like it for any reason, I could cancel, get a full refund, and not owe anything. 2 1/2 weeks into the plan, I received a call (at work!) that I was about to exceed the 5 gigs I had contracted for. I checked the Mozilla usage script and found I had only used about 2.7 Gigs, not the 4.7 Gigs they said.

    So I stopped using the widget, returned it to the store, canceled the service, and asked for my refund. I had to stop by 3 times before I was credited my money, and 3 weeks later I received a bill for $365.49. The bill also stated I had used only 4.7 Gigs (of a 5 Gig/Mo), but had charges for Overage.

    I inquired, and was told that I had signed-up in the middle of a billing cycle and was only allowed 3.2 Gigs, during this period. What a way to treat a NEW (and/or Potential Customer). So now I have filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, and the Federal Communications Committee.

    The way I see it, 30 days and no charges means just that!

    5 Gigs/ Month means 5 GIGS in 30 Days!

    And I await them ruining my credit, so I can SUE them.

    It Is Time For The Lawmakers To Regulate The Language In Their Contracts!

    10 Gig/Sec means 10 Gig/Sec. Not 3, or 5, or maybe 6 on a good day...

  20. daniel Silver badge


    In France, you can have several offers:

    Bouygues Telecom (pronounce "Boo-eee-ggg") GPRS / 3G for businesses: 69 euros VAT inclusive for unlimited use (a 500 mb cap exists on their general public offers though). I have had some issues with their 3G key though but on HSPDA, it's very very fast. All ports seem open to Internet, though you connect via a Bouygues Telecom Proxy that attempts to limit P2P use (but it does not worl too well ;-) )

    Orange Business (France Telecom): Unlimited for just over 100 euros a month... but they do not tell you that it is unlimited to only one IP address and one port (ie unlimited connection to your company proxy and your company takes the internet connection from there). General only have pre-set subscriptions (100, 500 mb etc) at various prices, starting at 49 euros the last time I looked with a price per meg over the top. Only common ports (HTTP, HTTPS, pop, smtp, ftp) are available on these offers too

    SFR (Vodaphone) have a quite decent unlimited offering: they do have a 1 gb "fair use" limit, but I was told that for the moment, they have enough capacity as not to have the need to enforce it. Prices start at 49 euros a month, and ports are blocked in the same way as Orange.

    SFR also have the best offering for mobile internet on their handsets, starting at 49 euros for 3 hours airtime and unlimited internet (1 gb fair use not really applied as mentionned above) - This is a darn sight better than Orange's offer with the iPhone!

    Note: SFR's (and the special Orange iPhone subscription) definition of fair use is that once you have gone over the limit, the operators *may* (at their discretion) reduce your bandwidth but not cut you off. Bouygues's notion of fair use (on the non-business subscription) is "unlimited internet" (but use over 500 mb and we will bill you 1 euro per mb over the top), and they may end up in court over misleading advertising.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    @ Solomon Grundy

    If there is a single free WIFI access point in this whole city then I have yet to find it.

    I think John's point was that, like me, he can sit in the park, or in the local where you have a snowballs chance of getting WIFI and instead get a nice fat HSDPA connection instead. I'd like to see you use WIFI on a network SE train into Kings Cross, or in the car (as a passenger obviously).

    I have done both, and use it at home as a way to wean myself of the BT teat. Apart from the annoyance the downsampled images in webpages it is solid. Not quite fast enough for gaming but it is more than fast enough for the iPlayer or downloading the odd bit of pron.

  22. John

    minicom for dummies

    As some of us may have forgotten (glad to see the back of) all those unintelligible minicom commands, maybe a quick refresher for the Huawei E220 would be good.

    Set it up using:

    Serial Device : /dev/ttyUSBxxx; Bps/Par/Bits : 115200 8N1; Hardware: No; Software Flow Control : Yes

    some useful commands:

    AT+COPS=? -> List observable networks

    AT+CIMI -> Get IMSI number

    Stick the darn thing into text message mode with:


    send a text with:


    type you message and then CTRL+Z to send

    To receive use:


    for all else, man minicom.

    @Peter Gathercole - Yep, BT has it all sown up. I was with Virgin and they said they couldn't transfer me across when I moved. Everyone else requires a BT line, so that's 18 months minimum from BT.

    @daniel - Looking forward to getting a proper 8 MB+ broadband connection that plugs into my router via an RJ45 when I get to France. Thanks for the info.

    @rick buck - Gutted, that sounds harsh.

  23. Henry Wertz Gold badge


    So here in the US, we've got:

    Verizon. I have service with them. Contrary to above poster, no, they don't claim 3gb/sec service. They claim something like 700-1200kbps if you have the newest cards (EVDO Rev A). I have a Rev 0 card, and I get typically 560-800kbits/sec. In my area, I've seen as high as 1.5mbits and about 256kbits/sec minimum, but it's not that slow very often. I can't complain, except about the price -- $60/month.

    AT&T. Also $60/month. They don't have near the buildout of Verizon or Sprint for 3G. That is, they have some pockets of HSDPA, with the rest being EDGE. I've been hearing AT&T has some network troubles, but I can't comment.

    Sprint. *ALSO* $60/month. Also EVDO Rev A. I've heard they tend to slightly edge out Verizon Wireless in data speeds.

    T-Mobile. $40-50/month. EDGE, I think they have UMTS in 1 city but it's apparently voice-only.

    Alltel -- covers a lot of the rural areas out west and the southeastern US. They've rolled out EVDO in very rural areas, $60 a month, no GB cap. I wonder if there aren't a lot of people buying it for in-home internet, because the choice would be dialup (slow at that -- those long phone lines won't do 56k, they'll do like 20 if you're lucky), satellite, or Alltel. Verizon is buying them out.

    "Local option(s)" -- Usually a little cheaper than the big boys.

  24. Charlie Clark Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    Not the whole story

    Guy - the main reason for the slew of mobile data offers is to keep the ARPU up: £10, £15 or £20 extra per month versus losing the same customers to PAYG contracts. Mobile data doesn't have to be blindingly fast to be useful.

    The networks are not obliged to provide minimum data rates and voice is already prioritised: I quite often use my mobile as a "modem" for my notebook and was pleasantly surprised to see that you can make calls while being online. If the local cell cannot provide enough bandwidth then data rates will be reduced or stopped - with a status message to the phone. Traffic-shaping is in use. In practice this means that areas where lots of people are trying to use the service (football matches, pop concerts, trade shows, etc.) you will have problems with contention but this has always been the problem with mobile services. The solution for mobile TV is not to abuse the networks with it but to add DVB-T receivers to the phones like the Nokia Tube.

    As for backhaul - I'm very sceptical of the arguments about this in the UK. In Germany we've had flatrates for mobile data for three years and we have two networks that offer HSDPA pretty much countrywide and started rolling out HSUPA earlier this year and not once have I read in the German business or technical press about problems with backhaul. Increasing capacity and providing high-speed access everywhere can then be driven by demand as Thorsten Dirks, CEO of E-Plus, stated last week: provide decent coverage in city centres first and build out where the demand is.

  25. druck Silver badge

    Re; @ Solomon Grundy

    "Apart from the annoyance the downsampled images in webpages it is solid"

    On Vodafone you can stop this by using NoScript in Firefox to block the inserted javascript from, which makes the pages use the reduced size image proxy.

  26. michael

    what the inter net is for



    the inter net is for porn

    the internet is for porn



    ok ok I am going

  27. David Beck

    @John - PAYG options

    I'm not sure where John has looked but I use a PAYG SIM from T-Mobile on the following terms, £4 per day of use ( 12 to 12, not 24 hours from first use), max usage measured on the calendar month of 3GB, must use it at least once every 180 days.

    I converted a free PAYG SIM to the "Mobile Broadband Plus Daily" plan by ringing 150 and asking to convert the SIM plan. You do not need a monthly plan to use this option. I use the SIM in a T-Mobile PCMCIA card off eBay (for a fiver) and get anywhere from 300 to 900 kbps on average, I have seen 1.2mbs but that's not a regular event.

    Obviously I don't use it too often, once or twice a month when I'm in London working but it's perfect for my purposes.

    T-Mobile has a selection of other PAYG plans for Web n Walk but all of those have low limits for the day (but cheaper daily rates).

    I have noticed that with the 3 tie up the 3G coverage is better.

  28. Wayland Sothcott Bronze badge
    IT Angle

    @ I can't believe it's not broadband

    Hello John,

    I am delighted that it works using AT commands under Linux. I feel we should get dd-wrt to work with this. I have just connected a customer using a Haewei E169 mounted in a pastic box on the outside of his house with a 3m USB cable. It's nolonger mobile but with a 1 bar signal it does 1000/50 on provided we chose London and not Maidenhead. The actual websurfing is fine. Reasonably snappy and perfectly usable, it would not cause you a problem.

    I have ordered a Billion 3G + ADSL WiFi router

    This will provide him with WiFi Broadband on his laptop in the house.

    The odd thing about this is that he could have got 8Meg sync on his ADSL but chose 3 Mobile at £30 per month for 18 moths because it comes with a free laptop from PC world. I don't think this is the best way to get a laptop and broadband for the same cost but plenty of people will be tempted by this option.

    I have charged him money to get his speed up from 50kbps to 1000kbps. I can see a lot of people will be in the same position. If they get 200kbps they will think they have broadband and will probably put up with it. One of the first things a young laptop owner does is to install Limewire. What will be the result of that!??!

  29. pctechxp

    major problem with mobile broadband

    Is that it is a contended resource whereas the fixed link between your home and the local exchange is at least dedicated (the pipe from BTs network to your ISP is contended however) so the more users on a cell, the slower everyone's connection and we haven't even got to backhaul (from the cell to the network) yet and then of course you factor in such things as weather conditions, distance between terminal and cell, etc.

    Speeds quoted as maximum for HSDPA are theoretical which means that to get 7.2 or whatever you have to be on top of a cell with noone on it, under perfect conditions by the way operators are flogging it, noone will ever get a half decent experience unless you surf in the early hours.

  30. Antony Riley
    Thumb Up

    Globe Option AT Commands

    For me the ability to select the type of network connection has been invaluable, in my experience the card switches to GPRS/EDGE too soon when the UMTS signal goes too low.

    Choose type of network connection (specific to Globe Option cards).

    AT_OPSYS=0,2 (GPRS only)

    AT_OPSYS=1,2 (UMTS only)

    AT_OPSYS=2,2 (prefer GPRS)

    AT_OPSYS=3,2 (prefer UMTS)

    Show signal quality (Note: this only shows the signal quality of the type of connection you're using, you need to combine with selecting the type of connection to get sane results). Above 20 should give a very solid connection, 1-20 will start to cause problems (and you'll find signal quality also changes with time of day and the weather). Every 1 = +2dBi.


    If your data card has an external antenna socket, you can probably boost your signal quality by 10-20 dBi with an antenna. I purchased a UMTS external antenna from (sorry, blatant plug, I don't work for them nor do they pay me in any way shape or form) and turned a completely unreliable and almost unusable connection into a solid one.

  31. JeffyPooh

    Google 'EV-DO in NS' for all the sorry details

    Canadian wireless telco Telus offered a wireless date rate plan called "Connect 75 Unlimited". The 'Connect' part of the name is good - the system works fine. The '75' represents, ah, the monthly fee of, ah, $81.95, ah, obviously. And the 'Unlimited' means, apparently, just ~5GB per month.

    We had checked and rechecked, and confirmed and reconfirmed that 'Unlimited' meant 'without limit'. So we used the EV-DO wireless system as a replacement for whole household high speed Internet connection (not otherwise available). We used ~15GB per month for many months, and then ramped up to a bit over 40 GB per month for a couple of months. After all, it's "Unlimited".

    Now they're going to cancel our service for "abuse". Their helpful staff confirmed that "5GB is cool" and even our normal 15 GB is not acceptable. They claim that "multi-media streaming" is prohibited under their terms of service, in spite of their advertisements for the same service which proclaimed (and I quote): "The TELUS Wireless High Speed network ... opens the door for a variety of services such as streaming video and other multimedia applications. ..."

    "Unlimited" my ass. Can you spell "Deceptive Marketing Practices"? Complaints have been filed. Massive fine expected.

    Google my blog 'EV-DO in NS' for all the sorry details.

    These Canadian wireless telcos have been acting like bandits recently.

  32. Martin


    Mobile phone operators are working on small profit margins for mobile broadband,, so if you're downloading 15gb or more a month on a 5gb plan, you are causing them to lose money. No business whats customers who cause them a loss, and a big loss if your doing 40gb a month. GET REAL JEFFRY.

  33. JeffyPooh


    Martin wrote: "...on a 5gb plan..."

    Martin. Please read more carefully.

    The data rate plan in question is called Telus "Connect 75 Unlimited". In the advertising for this plan the column which contained the usage caps for the various plans contained the word "Unlimited" in that column for that plan. The secret, still-denied 5GB usage cap figure arose during a now-denied telephone call where the representative admitted that "5GB is cool".

    The rate plan was ~not~ (!) presented as a 5GB plan. It was clearly, repeatedly, consistently, confirmedly, presented as an "Unlimited" plan.

    If it was actually a 5GB plan, then perhaps they should have not engaged in deceptive marketing practices and called it an "Unlimited" plan. It would have been very simple for them to type "5GB" (or whatever they want) into the applicable column instead of the word "Unlimited".

    I expect that the Canadian Competition Bureau (a federal regulator) will slap these guys with a huge fine for their deceptive marketing practices.

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