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Broadband in the park – or how mobile broadband snuck up on us when we weren’t looking

Webnwalkusbmodem3

It’s 2.00pm on a hot sunny afternoon and I’m blogging this from a deckchair in our local park using the new T-Mobile WebnWalk HSDPA USB Modem…and I’m gobsmacked. Long time readers of The Ferret will know that we’ve been looking forward to the arrival of mobile (i.e. cellular) broadband for ever, although we always figured it would need some fancy new techs to do it. Well we’ve got news for you….high speed mobile broadband is here, it’s affordable and it’s fantastic!

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There are a number of issues involved in defining fantastic, so let’s cover them one by one. First ease of use. Traditional cellular data cards have been a nightmare to install and setup, just ask anyone who’s used a Vodafone data card in anger and they’ll tell you. Well this product is a breeze, literally, to install. Insert the SIM card into the modem, plug it into your laptop’s USB port, and the software starts up automatically (no CD to insert!) and literally 1.5 minutes later you’re done. Oooooohh!!!!

Once you’re up and running (just click Connect to go online) you’ll notice the next difference. This is a FAST connection. Here in the west of London I am connected at a staggering 3.6 Mbps, with downloads averaging out at around 4–500kbps. And this is from a not particularly open location next to a wall. The astonishing thing though, is that I managed to obtain a respectable 200 kbps EDGE connection when I used it recently deep in the wilds of the Italian mountains on a vacation trip. Granted the lack of cell antennas meant I had to keep the nearest one in line of sight to get maximum throughput, but still, full-on surfing at broadband speeds in the middle of nowhere (on the banks of a mountain river actually, how cool is that?) counts as miraculous in this reporter’s mind.

Yes there’s lag, and yes there may still be questions hanging over seamless hand-off in a crowded cell, but this is the future now.

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My experience here and roaming abroad with this product has convinced me that we’re on the verge of experiencing an explosion in mobile data services and applications. T-Mobile is  ahead of the pack over here in terms of deployment, pricing and availability but the others are starting to catch up. The 3 network has already shown it’s willing to fight over data customers with flat rate pricing and the rest are starting follow suit. The fact that we’re starting to see affordable flat rate pricing (e.g. the T-Mobile WebnWalk package starts at £7.50 per month for all you can eat data, and the USB modem package starts at £29.00 a month for unlimited Internet access) is also a pointer to the future. [Disclaimer: I provide consultancy services to T-Mobile in the UK]

The big question in my mind is why is this not being trumpeted from the rooftops? Sure most tech followers know that HSDPA and similar are coming on to the market, but few people realise just how accessible and usable this technology is right now. It may be a deliberate ploy by the telcos to control the rate of adoption of course, until the network coverage and backhaul infrastructure is more solid, but even so, it seems criminal to keep pointing to WiFi as the future of roaming data, when this cellular technology is so clearly superior in every way. The speed and ubiquity of these new cellular networks makes WiFi look like a sick joke.

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All of a sudden, the future of the global mobile data using world looks very interesting indeed.

Here’s some further reading:

Red – who has written posts on The Red Ferret Journal.


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