Do you NEED to be able to connect to the net always? Do you feel funny when you aren’t near a wi-fi hotspot? Are you outside the range of traditional ADSL and cable but have 3G cellular cover?
What Is It – Vodafone have had a USB 3G modem for a while now, but this new “stick” form factor is smaller and easier to pack than the traditional pebble on a lead design. A re-branded Huawei e172, the unit isn’t much bigger than the size of an older USB thumb drive, so you’re not going to get anything much smaller or lighter than this.
Because of its width, some more inaccessibly USB ports may not allow the unit to be plugged in (like the MacBook Air). Also using the unit with USB sockets that are close together can mean access to the second one is blocked. Luckily the Vodafone package includes an little USB extender lead that overcomes both these potential issues.
Here’s a list of the standards supported by the modem…
- 3G (UMTS/HSDPA) frequency supported 2100 MHz
- EDGE frequency supported 900, 1800 and 1900MHz
- GPRS frequency supported 900, 1800 and 1900MHz
- Support for USA / Canada Yes for GPRS/EDGE access at 1900MHz
How Fast?According to Vodafone their regular HSDPA service provides data rates of up to 1.8Mbps – offering typical speeds of 0.8 – 1.3Mbps. Their new 7.2 service offers typical speeds of 1.7 – 5.5Mbps and upstream speeds are improving too with HSUPA technology now providing up to 1.44Mbps, a upload speed most ADSL users can only dream of!
However for now the 7.2 service is only available in the following central London postcodes and UK airports – E1, E1W, E14, EC1, EC2, EC3, EC4, NW1, SW1, W1, W2, W8, W9, W10, W11, W14, WC1, WC2. Airports – Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, Stansted, London City, Southampton, Bristol, Birmingham, East Midlands, Liverpool, Manchester, Belfast City, Belfast International, Cardiff, Norwich. The general 3G (red) and GPRS (blue) coverage is shown for the UK in the map below.
Installing & Using – Installing the SIM is simple. A little SIM Card tray sits right beside the USB plug at the front of the unit. It’s easy to remove with your thumb nail and slides back in securely. The top for the stick is attached securely with a length of braid so this is one top you won’t lose easily.
Windows XP and Vista are supported along with Mac OS X Panther 10.3.9 or higher. Under windows the installation is a doddle as the drivers are built right into the USB stick itself.
Using on a Mac requires a software installation from the CD (included in the package) before inserting the modem. We had an issue when installing on our MacBook (Leopard/Intel) which caused an error message on launch (“An exception of class NilObjectException was not handled. The application must shut down”). A quick call to Vodafone’s business support got us in touch with a guy that knew what the problem was. Although we were asked to authenticate during install with our admin users/password it seems you cannot run the software from a non-administrator account without first running it from the admin account and activating it.
You really don’t need the Vodafone software after this if you click the checkbox ‘Show modem status in menu bar’ in network preferences. This adds a little telephone icon to your menu bar, which gives you fast right-click access to starting and stopping the connection as well as displaying your time on-line.
We found a newer version of the Mac software on the Vodafone site (VodafoneMCInstaller.2.08.05.04) and installed that. You can download the latest drivers for both windows and Mac from the Vodafone site HERE .
To use the modem insert it and wait a few seconds until one or both of the LEDs start flashing. Launch the Vodafone Mobile Connect application and a few seconds later you are online! Here are the various states of the two LEDs on the unit and their corresponding meanings…
- Green light –Blinking on and off – Modem is starting up.
- Green light – Constantly on – Connected to the GPRS Network, data is being sent and received.
- Blue light –Blinking on and off – A 3G network has been found, the modem is ready to connect.
- Blue light – Constantly on – Connection to a 3G network.
- Light Blue – Constantly on – Connection to a 3G Broadband network
According to Vodafone if you move out of 3G coverage or the signal drops out, the USB modem will automatically hand over to the GPRS network. This means you will seamlessly (with up to 6 seconds of delay) be disconnected from the 3G network and connected to the GPRS network without having to manually reconnect.
OK, So How Much? – There are various packages available for the modem. The device itself is free on several contracts and around
£13 a month you get a 3Gb service. “Unlimited” data is available for £25 is available, but as we have come to expect, unlimited doesn’t really mean unlimited and the Fair Use policy limits the service to 5Gb for the month. You can even buy the modem and use it PAYG (pay as you go) for £150+vat and £8 per 24 hours. UPDATE Since we reviewed the 3G modem prices have fallen – check out the up-to-date deals here.
Conclusion – So, there you have it. If you need to be able to be on-lline virtually everywhere, and you want the smallest lightest device, with the highest speed capability and probably the best coverage available, then look no further. We certainly won’t be leaving home without ours ever again!
Vodafone 3G USB Stick Broadband Modem : Linux Drivers available HERE