In September 2009 I finally took the plunge and purchased UK mobile broadband to use on my netbook. In theory this means that when you insert the mobile broadband modem or dongle (a sim card enclosed in a plastic sheath with a USB plug which you insert into a USB port in your laptop) you can connect to the internet.
02 mobile broadband modem or dongle
I travel quite a bit within the UK. It’s a bit pointless having a netbook unless you have a cost effective, decent strength signal to get online. While some hotels offer free wifi to their guests many still charge for the service e.g. Travelodge UK in room wifi costs £5 for one hour or £10 for 24 hours, which is around the average price charged by hotels.
I bought my netbook in February 2009 and initially tried the free FON wifi network but hardly ever managed to find a signal at the hotspots indicated on their map. I wanted to avoid hotel wifi charges, so my alternative was to use a UK mobile internet service. However I wasn’t sure exactly how often I would require the service, given that some UK hotels offer free wifi and many of my trips are outwith the UK. My other concerns were service availability given that I’d be in a variety of geographical locations within the UK and also how much it would cost.
Although mobile broadband costs less on a monthly contract, the cheapest contracts run for 18 or 24 months and I didn’t want to be tied into a contact for so long. I also reckoned that there would be some months when I wouldn’t require any mobile broadband. Therefore I decided to opt for the Pay As You Go Mobile Broadband (PAYG) option. With PAYG you generally have to pay for the dongle which is usually free on mobile broadband contracts.
My netbook with the dongle in a USB port on the left
UK mobile broadband PAYG options
Package details and prices on 10 December 2009
A one off cost of £10 for the dongle and £15 a month for mobile broadband with a 5GB download limit allowance, no wifi included.
A one off cost of £20 for the dongle and PAYG subscription priced at £15 for one month (3GB), £7.50 for one week (1GB) and £2 for one day (0.5GB) including unlimited wifi at specified UK hotspots e.g. The Cloud.
A one off cost of £20 for the dongle and PAYG subscription priced at £15 for one month (2GB limit), £7.50 for one week (1GB) and £2 for a day (0.5GB), no wifi included.
A one off cost of £28.49 for the dongle which includes 1GB with no expiry on usage. You pay another £15 for each 1GB you require, no wifi included.
Although I was tempted by 3‘s low price, I live in North East England and I’d read that 3′s coverage isn’t always great outside major urban areas. However you should check coverage for the areas you’ll be in as I’ve been told 3′s coverage is good in cities such as London, Leeds and Birmingham. I reckoned that I’d only need to use mobile internet for 2 to 3 days some months, but would have to pay £10 for the whole month. Also there’s no wifi included in 3′s mobile broadband.
I discounted Vodafone as being quite expensive at £15 for 1GB, although this package may suit very infrequent users due to the non-expiry of the allowance.
Conclusion (December 09)
I’ve now had my 02 PAYG mobile broadband for almost three months. I was fully aware that mobile broadand outside 3G areas was going to be much slower than my wired office broadband. The one occasion when I connected to 3G in a London bar was wonderful.
There’s only been one location, the Excel exhibition centre in London, where I couldn’t connect either by mobile internet or wifi, my other experiences have been variable. Overall I’m happy with my o2 PAYG mobile broadband because of the flexibility to only pay when I need to use the service, the fact that I have been able to connect in almost every location and the free wifi.
Having mobile broadband has saved me money e.g. it would have cost me £40 to use Travelodge wifi during my 3 night (4 day) stay at London Tower Bridge Travelodge as opposed to £7.50 for o2 mobile internet. When my wired office broadband was down I was able to get online to do some work, albeit at a much slower pace. It’s difficult to put a price on such a backup option.
I’m also really glad I went for the o2 package as I’ve used the free wifi several times at UK airports. Below I’ve listed all the UK locations where Ive used 02 mobile broadband and wifi:
Cumberland Hotel, Bournemouth – 02 mobile broadband: fair signal
Bourmemouth airport – 02 mobile broadband: very good signal
Edinburgh airport – BT Openzone wifi – poor to very good signal
Perth, Scotland Travelodge – fair signal
Excel Exhibition Centre, London – 02 mobile broadband: no signal. BT OpenZone: very poor signal
Travelodge Tower Bridge London – 02 mobile broadband: variable signal from poor to very good
Dogget’s Riverside Bar, Blackfriars Bridge, London – 02 mobile broadband: excellent 3G signal
At home in Berwick upon Tweed – 02 mobile broadband: fair signal
Your experience of UK mobile broadband
So that’s my experience of PAYG UK mobile broadband. You have decide which provider and which type of package suits your usage.