PC Medic is currently in the process of trialling mobile telecoms provider O2's range of mobile broadband solutions and so far the results of our trials are very promising. So much so in fact that we are in the process of signing up as resellers for O2's range of mobile broadband devices and we hope to be in a position to offer these products to our customers in the next week or so.
To date we have been trialling three different 3G-based mobile broadband devices: the Huawei 1752; the Sierra Wireless 302; and the Qualcomm GlobeSurfer III. Both the Huawei and Sierra Wireless modems are USB dongle devices that are both easy to set up and use. Like all hardware devices that are to be used with a computer both a software driver and interface utility must be installed before the device will work. This is where installation of the dongles is an absolute breeze. When you plug the dongle into a USB port on your computer (either Windows or Apple) the installation procedure begins automatically. This makes it so easy for even the most reticent computer user to get up and running. Within 80 seconds of plugging the device into a USB port you're all set to access broadband.
So how do these 3G-based dongles compare to fixed copper (Eircom) or fibre-based (UPC/NTL) lines. Well, like most things in life, that depends. And what it depends upon is (mainly) your proximity to a mobile telephone mast. This is because this system of mobile broadband is based on the same technology used for mobile voice telephony. So what kind of broadband speeds can you expect? Well, where we are located is just "OK" for mobile phone reception. Nonetheless, we have been able to achieve download speeds of 3.72 MBit/S for the Sierra model and 3.28 MBit/S for the Huawei model. While the theoretical maximum download speed is 7.2 MBit/S it is highly unlikely that you will achieve this unless you have an O2 mast on your chimney and are in a low contention area. However, if you currently have a 3 MBit/S service from, for example, Eircom, you will probably be lucky to get 2.5 MBit/S on average. So in this regard the dongle can perform as well as fixed line broadband.
I say "can" because depending on you exact geographic location, and the prevailing weather conditions, your speed may drop off considerably. In fact the dongles allow a number of different data transmission protocols to be used for communication and will automatically select the best available at any point in time. These are, in order of best to worst, HSDPA, UMTS and EDGE. If your signal only allows use of the EDGE protocol you are down to maximum download speeds of 384 KBit/S. At these download speeds it feels more like dial-up than broadband, but you are still able to get on-line.
The product that we really like is the GlobeSurfer III. This is a 3G mobile wireless modem router that can be plugged in anywhere that there is a power socket and multiple PCs or laptops can simultaneously access the internet. In addition, the unit has two ethernet ports for wired connections to PCs or games consoles, a USB port for shared printers or external storage device, and has voice telephony and SMS options that we haven't yet got around to exploring. Potentially this device could replace your fixed-line (copper or fibre) service, providing you are in a good reception area. You can unplug the unit from the wall in your home, throw it in your weekend bag and bring it with you to your hotel/B&B/holiday home and have wireless internet access as soon as you plug it into the power at your destination (subject to signal reception).
Because you don't know whether you are in a good reception area or not you might be reluctant to sign up for a fixed term contract for one of these devices, and that's understandable. Because O2 has generously provided PC Medic with a number of trial devices of each unit described above, we are in a position where we can provide all our existing customers with these units to try at their leisure for a week or two before deciding if they provide a solution for them. All our customers will receive an e-mail in the coming weeks giving more details of this program.