Complete Guide to Mobile Broadband
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Complete Guide to Mobile Broadband

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Your ultimate guide to <a>Mobile Broadband from Broadband Choices

Your ultimate guide to <a>Mobile Broadband from Broadband Choices

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Complete Guide to Mobile Broadband Complete Guide to Mobile Broadband Document Transcript

  • Complete Guide to... Mobile broadband This Consumerchoices.co.uk guide will help you understand the new and exciting world of mobile broadband. Packed full of insights and tips, you’ll learn the benefits of mobile broadband over and above conventional fixed-line broadband. So, if a friend has told you how useful mobile broadband is, this guide which will help you decide if it’s right for you.
  • Welcome to the ConsumerChoices.co.uk complete guide to mobile broadband. Mobile broadband is revolutionising the way we get online using the latest technology. And thanks to competition among providers it can be as cheap as fixed-line home broadband. For some people it is a complete solution to their broadband needs, for others it’s a valuable additional service, perhaps for work or on holiday. We’ll explore whether it’s right for you, discuss the technology behind mobile broadband and compare it to fixed-line home broadband. Then you’ll be in a position to make the right choice. Contents What’s inside your guide to mobile broadband? Section 1: Section 4: Section 5: Is it time to go mobile? Pros and cons of mobile Getting the right service for you  Benefits of mobile broadband broadband  Pay-as-you-go vs contracts  Checking your coverage  Free laptop/netbook and mobile Why mobile broadband is great: broadband deals  Easy set-up  Bundled mobile broadband and fixed Section 2:  Low-cost home broadband deals Is it right for you?  Speed  Money-back guarantees  Professionals and internet on-the-go  Downloads  Dongle features  Shared and rental occupants  Security  Dongle insurance  Avoiding a second landline at home  International roaming  Is this the end of home phone Why mobile broadband may not be the line rental? complete solution:  Coverage Section 6:  Download limits What’s the future? Section 3:  Speed  Death of the dongle? How does it work?  Contract length  Better speed, unlimited downloads?  3G explained  VoIP on mobile broadband  Is mobile broadband going to get  Mobile broadband vs. fixed-line  International roaming more expensive? broadband  Mobile broadband vs. fixed-line Summary table of providers broadband with a wireless hub Glossary  Mobile broadband vs. Wi-fi NB. Prices and information correct as of 14/9/09 2
  • 0808 101 3421 www.BeThere.co.uk Is it time to go mobile? Using mobile broadband is as simple as putting a plug in a socket and flicking the switch. No wires, plugs or routers. Due to competition for customers it’s cheaper than ever, with monthly plans starting at less than £5. With 85-99% of the population able to hook-up depending on the service provider – it’s a viable option for anyone keen to have internet access on-the-go.
  • Section 1: Is it time to go mobile?  The simplicity of mobile broadband By mid-2009, 3 million UK homes had mobile broadband*. And the numbers keep increasing as every month, a further 250,000 people in the UK are taking the plunge and getting mobile broadband. Just like having a mobile phone means you are primed and ready to make and receive calls anywhere, with mobile broadband and a laptop you have ready-to-go internet access almost anywhere. Around 25% of people have just mobile broadband; choosing not to have a fixed broadband connection, according to telecoms regulator Ofcom. More still have mobile broadband in addition to their fixed-line at home. ‘‘ And mobile broadband has already overtaken Wi-fi in the UK as people’s preferred “no-wires” method of going on-line, according to research company Point Topic. It found that 47% Last year around 12% of internet-on-the-go usage was through mobile broadband of people ditched their compared to 42% through a Wi-fi hotspot. fixed-line broadband entirely for mobile Due to competition for customers it’s cheaper than ever with monthly plans starting at less than £5. As 98% of the UK broadband. population is able to hook-up – it’s a viable option for almost anyone who wants internet access on-the-go. Mobile broadband is transmitted via the latest mobile phone technology, known as 3G and with even newer features such as HSPA (high speed packet access), downloading can be super-quick. Mobile broadband uses cutting edge radio technology, but before signing-up for the service, consider where you might use it most and check that the signal will be good enough. Do this by visiting providers’ websites or stores and checking availability in the postcodes where you’re planning to get on-line. Coverage in some rural areas can be poor, but it is generally good in cities. * Ofcom communications market report August 2009 4 © ConsumerChoices.co.uk 2009
  • 0808 101 3421 www.BeThere.co.uk Is it right for you? Mobile broadband appeals to two main categories of people. Those who need access to the internet while on the move for personal and professional use and those who move homes regularly such as tenants and students.
  • Section 2: Is it right for you?  Professionals and internet on the go With mobile broadband, you can be connected to the web wherever you are – an airport, train journey, café or park. It can work just as well in Lancaster as it does in London. It frees you up from paying for services like The Cloud that charge £4.50 an hour for pay-as-you-go internet access. Commuters with regular journeys can get on-line and get working without having to access a Wi-fi network. However, the strength of the connection can vary throughout the journey. So if you may want to quiz your chosen provider about the signal before you sign up. Beware though, if you are using a workplace virtual private network (VPN) or using a remote desktop login, momentary instability in the mobile broadband network could mean you’ll get a choppy connection. !  Shared and rental accommodation If you move house regularly or rent your home, mobile broadband is now a viable alternative to having fixed-line broadband. toP tIP: Check the strength of the This works especially well if you would rather use your mobile for signal at any address you phone calls too. You may decide that with a mobile phone and mobile broadband, you no longer need the services of a may want to use your fixed-line phone company such as BT or Virgin Media. mobile broadband service before you buy and quiz In the UK, in order to have fixed-line broadband you generally your intended provider on need to have a phone line, and for that you have to pay monthly the strength of the signal line rental (between £9.49-14 depending on your provider and how you pay and receive bills). on your regular commute. You also won’t need to pay £122.50 connection charge if you don’t already have a fixed phone line in your new property. With Virgin Media’s cable service you can get a fixed-line broadband connection without a home phonen line. However How much data will I use? standalone cable broadband is priced higher than if the There are just over 1,000MB in 1GB. Bear in mind customers takes cable home phone with their broadband. that mobile broadband download limits can be 500MB to 15GB. It’s important to think about how A shared house may already have internet access through a much you’ll need and get a suitable package. landline, but you may not want to share the access. With mobile broadband anyone from a tenant; occupant of a shared house n Downloading an episode of Eastenders or student living in halls can have their own internet access in (30 min) = 300MB their room and anywhere else they choose. They will have their n Downloading a DVD quality movie = 4.5GB own bill, and won’t be paying for someone’s else download n Low definition movie = 1GB usage. n 60 hours web surfing = 1.5GB n 1 music album = 80MB  Avoiding a second land line n 10 minute video clip from YouTube = 40MB You may want an additional way to access the internet at home, n 10 hours of internet radio = 1.2GB but don’t want to go to the trouble of installing a second land line at home. If you’ll only use it as a back-up, you may want to get pay-as-you-go mobile broadband rather than a contract. (See section 5 Getting the right service for you). 6 © ConsumerChoices.co.uk 2009
  • Section 2: Is it right for you? ‘‘  Is this the end of the land line? Some experts predict that the rise of mobile broadband coupled with the ubiquity of the mobile phone will mean that many ‘I DIDN’t WANt to PAY more people will ditch their home telephone line completely. oUt FoR A FIXED LINE IN Ditching your landline could save up to £150 year on line rental MY SHARED HoUSE’ alone (and you could use the money to pay for your “I chose mobile mobile broadband)! broadband because it was the cheapest option However, mobile broadband is not a robust solution for all users of the internet – people who want to stream TV, download a fair for me. Bt said it would amount of media such as movies, or are keen internet gamers charge £122.50 to install would currently still be better served by a fixed broadband line. a new phone line in our flat, and because we are Mobile broadband is also unsuitable for making telephone calls over the internet. Making calls over the internet is known as VoIP only planning to be there (Voice over Internet Protocol) and some mobile broadband 12 months, it just wasn’t providers prohibit the use of VoIP on mobile broadband for fear worth it. of clogging up their networks. “I’m not a heavy VoIP isn’t great on mobile broadband as it needs a steady downloader – at home I connection and the connection can momentarily drop with probably only use the mobile broadband. It’s not something you notice when you’re internet for a couple of web browsing, emailing or downloading, but if you’re on the hours each week: to send phone you’ll lose the connection. emails, check Facebook (See section 4 Cons of mobile broadband for and download the more information) occasional song. “I got a cheap deal with 3 mobile that gets me a monthly download limit of 5MB for £7.50 a month. the dongle came free and I’ve yet to use more than 1MB a month. [this deal is no longer available]. “Now, I can take my internet with me to the park, to the pub and even on the train.” Helen, public relations 7 © ConsumerChoices.co.uk 2009
  • How does it work? Mobile broadband connects to the mobile phone network – the latest version of which is called the 3G network. It is a completely different connection from that used by fixed-line broadband as it relies on radio technology, not fixed, physical lines. Although it is wireless it is also different from Wi-fi. We explain how it all works in this section.
  • Section 3: How does it work?  The mobile broadband network Mobile broadband connects to the mobile phone network – the latest version of which is called the 3G network. The 3G network now covers 99% of the UK, as the mobile broadband companies have been investing massively in this area to help them offer the service to more customers. As an extension of 3G, there is a technology called HSPA (High-speed packet access) which improves the download speed of items like attachments on emails. 3G and HSPA are being constantly updated and improved. 3G radio technology can deliver two significant benefits: - It can provide access in some areas where the old telephone lines cannot support fixed-line broadband. - The 3G network can deliver speedy internet access in ! built-up areas. When you insert your USB modem or dongle into your laptop toP tIP: it will connect with the 3G network and you’re ready to use Some mobile broadband the internet. providers such as  How does mobile broadband differ from t-Mobile and o2 include fixed-line internet? Wi-fi hotspot minutes in Fixed-line internet is delivered through ADSL (copper wire) or their packages. cable lines. In the UK, therefore, in order to receive fixed-line broadband you have to have a home phone line and pay the associated line rental costs. The one exception is cable. You can get a standalone fixed cable broadband connection - however Virgin Media charges more for standalone, than if you get cable home phone and cable broacband as a bundle. Mobile broadband uses the totally separate 3G radio network and so you don’t need a fixed phone line to get connected. In the early days of mobile broadband, it couldn’t compete with fixed-line broadband on speed, but it is improving all the time on the speed front. Fixed-line home broadband is still much faster mobile broadband in the UK. Average fixed-line speeds are 4.1Mb according to Ofcom, compared to average mobile broadband speeds of less than1Mb, according to research company Epitiro. In August 2009, Vodafone upgraded some parts of its network to 14.4Mb, but warned that customers would expect to get typical speeds between 1Mb and 4Mb. However, this development has not come near to matching the top speed available on fixed-line broadband - Virgin Media’s brand-new 50Mb broadband. For more information on the speeds available with mobile broadband see section 4 – Pros and cons of mobile broadband. 9 © ConsumerChoices.co.uk 2009
  • Section 3: How does it work? ‘‘  Wireless home broadband Mobile broadband is not wireless home broadband. ‘tHE PRoS oUtWEIGH All fixed-line home broadband can be made wireless by using a tHE CoNS FoR SHARED connection to a Wi-fi router. Wireless home broadband means oFFICE USE’ you can use your laptop in any room in the house or even the “We got an office dongle garden – normally up to a 100m radius of the router. so that anyone travelling Wireless home broadband uses the same technology as fixed out of the office could broadband up to the router or hub. From there, your computers access our intranet via or laptops connect to the broadband connection via the their laptop while they Wi-fi network. were on the move. It’s great for retrieving A benefit of wireless home broadband is that more than one user at home can connect to the internet through the router. documents, as well as for emails and web-browsing. Another is that fixed-line broadband (with or without Wi-fi) allows “We chose to go with 3 for a greater volume of downloading and streaming than most mobile broadband packages. There are strict limits on how on price and got their much downloading you can do via mobile broadband and even 1GB for £10 a month “unlimited” contracts have a fair usage policy. deal. We only use about 40MB a month, though. For more on download limits with mobile broadband see section 4The downsides of mobile broadband. “It’s great for a fixed location, home, hotel  Wi-fi room, airport etc. But it Until mobile broadband came along, third party Wi-fi access can be a real pain on was the only way to connect to the internet when you were out and about. train journeys when the connection can drop. A Wi-fi network card or Wi-fi built into your laptop, allowed you However for us, the pros to log-on to Wi-fi hotspots in cafes, airports, trains and definitely outweigh the elsewhere. Often you had to pay for it, but, increasingly, free Wi-fi hotspots are available. cons. After a year, 3 dropped the price to £5 a However, security can be an issue with Wi-fi networks. Without month to retain our good security, strangers could get access to your personal data. loyalty. It’s a great Mobile broadband, on the other hand, uses a heavily-encrypted technology courtesy of your mobile broadband provider – it bargain.” offers much better security than Wi-fi. Anthony, head of IT For more on security, see section 4 Pros of mobile broadband. Something to bear in mind is that Wi-fi can be a valuable back-up to your mobile broadband service as it will not eat into your mobile broadband download limit. So when you are out and about and near a Wi-fi hotspot, you may want to swap between the two types of access to ensure you stay within your download limits. Free Wi-fi access can be invaluable overseas for example – mobile broadband roaming costs can be pretty high, so when you can, use a free Wi-fi connection instead. 10 © ConsumerChoices.co.uk 2009
  • 0808 101 3421 www.BeThere.co.uk Pros and cons of mobile broadband Mobile broadband offers easy set-up and great pricing making it suitable for almost everyone. However, if you download a lot of documents or media, you may find that the download limits of your package aren’t enough. In this section we’ll examine the great things about mobile broadband, but highlight its weaknesses too.
  • Section 4: Pros and cons of mobile broadband  Mobile broadband – the pros Easy set-up: Sign-up for a mobile broadband contract and you will receive a USB modem or dongle. Simply plug it into your laptop, connect by clicking on the pop-up screen and you’re away. Mobile broadband is perfect for anyone allergic to any kind of computer tinkering or tech-speak. You can easily plug your dongle into the USB port of any computer and get on-line. Cost: The cost of mobile broadband has come down significantly in the last year as the main providers fight for market share. You can now get mobile broadband for just under £5 a month* with Orange– this gives you a 500MB download allowance ‘‘ which is plenty enough for medium-use surfing and emailing, but not for downloading any significant amount of music, or other rich media. the big question is whether you need mobile (See table of of mobile broadband providers page 27). broadband in addition to You can also get pay-as-you-go mobile broadband – perfect for a fixed line. or whether infrequent usage or as a back-up option. you can manage with mobile broadband alone? As discussed in section 2 Is this the end of the landline?, mobile broadband coupled with a mobile phone raises the possibility of getting rid of your landline – a move which could save you up to £150 a year on line rental. The big question for many people is whether they want to use mobile broadband alongside their fixed home broadband – paying for both, or whether they could survive on mobile broadband alone – doing away with their monthly bills for fixed broadband and phone line rental. Speed: There’s nothing worse than waiting ages for a basic web page to load. Connection speed is a thorny issue in the world of broadband – advertised headline speeds are rarely achieved in the broadband market. Mobile broadband offers headline speeds up to 14.4Mb, but as with fixed-line broadband that doesn’t mean to say you’ll get that level of speed. The actual speed of your mobile broadband connection depends on the following factors: - The provider - Your location, ie home, train, countryside - Distance from the nearest appropriate mobile mast - Obstacles ie trees and buildings between you and the mast - Number of users also online (particularly in built-up areas) * O2 contract £9.79 a month with a 3GB download limit (March 2009) 12 © ConsumerChoices.co.uk 2009
  • Section 4: Pros and cons of mobile broadband Checking coverage: Each provider of mobile broadband has a footprint for its service across the country in minute detail. While What do I get for my allowance? there will be similarities between their mobile phone and mobile broadband coverage, there will also be differences. n 1GB of mobile broadband data lets you send 650 plain text emails, surf the web for 30 hours and download Therefore, it is vital that you check your coverage by individual 30 two minute videos and 60 music tracks postcode with any provider you are thinking of using. It’s easy and simple to do – either visit their website to do a postcode n 3GB of mobile broadband data lets you send 2,000 plain check or ask in store. (See section 6 Getting the right service for text emails, surf the web for 100 hours and download 100 you - money back guarantees.) two minute videos and 200 music tracks Downloads: Basic mobile broadband tariffs (offering 1-3GB n 7GB of mobile broadband data lets you send 4,500 plain of downloads a month) should meet the needs of light and text emails, surf the web for 200 hours and download 200 medium users. two minute videos and download 400 music tracks However if you are using your mobile broadband service for daily n 15GB of mobile broadband data lets you do more “work” use or to download media such as films, music and TV bandwith intensive downloading. For example a DVD quality programmes, you may find the limits a problem. You should movie will use up 4.5GB of data and 60 hours of web surfing consider a package with a limit of 10-15GB. Even then you will use up 1.5GB should keep a close eye on how much you are using. Security: Mobile broadband is more secure than Wi-fi hotspots when you are out and about as it has built-in encryption courtesy of your mobile broadband provider. This means that that the risk of someone hacking your information is minimised. Whatever way you are accessing the internet you should always be have a firewall in place for security. ! toP tIP: Mobile broadband uses 128bit encrypted technology – it is a very secure way of transferring information, and much safer than Wi-fi. 13 © ConsumerChoices.co.uk 2009
  • Section 4: Pros and cons of mobile broadband ‘‘  Mobile broadband – cons Coverage: With mobile broadband you are at the mercy of your provider’s coverage limitations. While it’s true to say that mobile ‘I WANtED MoBILE broadband providers cover 85-98% of the UK population, each provider differs over where it signal may be strongest and where BRoADBAND, BUt HAVE it may not reach. KEPt MY FIXED-LINE too’ “I wanted to set up a home In particular, coverage (and speed) can be compromised in the countryside where there are fewer mobile masts. office in my kitchen. At that point (February 2008) Virgin While mobile broadband should work well in major towns and Media – my fixed-line supplier cities, there will still be blackspots – basement flats, hills, didn’t offer a Wi-fi router and buildings and trees could all affect your coverage, despite a postcode check. I was worried about installing one myself. As a note of caution – just because your mobile phone works “My mobile phone provider is well in your home for voice calls, it doesn’t mean to say that the t-Mobile and I decided get same company’s mobile broadband will offer a high-speed connection. The footprints for mobile phone and mobile mobile broadband from them. broadband differ for each individual provider. You must check I wanted the cheapest deal with your preferred provider(s) before signing-up. and I looked into Vodafone and 3 as well before making a The same caution is needed when using your mobile broadband on the go. If there are secondary locations you know you’ll need decision. to use your mobile broadband for – check the postcodes for “once up-and-running, I them with your provider too. decided to keep my Virgin Download limits: Transferring data across the 3G network is Media broadband line too. So expensive, so providers limit the amount you can download I can still use my fixed according to the cost of your package. connection for downloading films and watching the BBC’s You eat significantly into your download limit by downloading films and music, by streaming or downloading TV programmes, iPlayer without eating into my for example through the BBC iPlayer and by internet gaming. mobile broadband data allowance.” Your package price will be linked to your monthly data usage Sheila, child minder limit – 1GB, 3GB, 7GB,10GB and 15GB are common limits and charged accordingly. To get around the smaller download limits of mobile broadband compared to fixed-line broadband, Orange has launched a set of Early Bird tariffs which allow unlimited downloading between midnight and 9am. 14 © ConsumerChoices.co.uk 2009
  • Section 4: Pros and cons of mobile broadband There are two ways that companies deal with download limits: 1 Charging for any usage that exceeds your data limit If you exceed your limit, your supplier can levy charges. This can range from 1.96-19.6 pence per MB depending on your deal. 2 Employing a fair usage policy and asking you to move up to a more expensive tariff if you regularly exceed it. Providers using the fair usage system advertise “unlimited” mobile broadband, but have a set monthly download amount which you shouldn’t exceed. If you regularly exceed it, you will be moved up to a more expensive package. There is also a possibility you could be fined, your speeds slowed or even disconnected. Quick download guide: 60 hours web-surfing 1536MB (1.5GB) 10 min YouTube clip 215MB (0.21GB) 1 music album 60MB (0.06GB) With the advent of new data compression technology and next-generation 4G, it is possible that much bigger download limits for mobile broadband will be available in the future. This means that one of the major stumbling blocks to mobile broadband conquering fixed-line broadband will have been removed. For more on future developments in mobile broadband see ! section 6 – The future for mobile broadband. Of course, the smart internet-on-the-go user will know when to switch from mobile broadband to using Wi-fi for downloading. toP tIP: Research company Point Topic recently predicted that Don’t get locked into a “dual-mode operation, with mobile broadband users defaulting to Wi-fi where it’s available, will be the way of the future.” long contract. If you are only a light-user of mobile If you want to keep a track of how much you are downloading broadband it may be best and avoid exceeding your contract limits, there are several free to stick to pay-as-you-go download monitors available on the internet. You can download a good monitor here at BroadbandChoices.co.uk: or a one-month rolling contract. www.broadbandchoices.co.uk/broadband-download- monitor.html However, if you are using a dongle, the download monitors tend not to be quite as accurate as with fixed-line broadband. So use them purely as a guide rather than gospel. 15 © ConsumerChoices.co.uk 2009
  • Section 4: Pros and cons of mobile broadband ‘‘ Speed: A contentious issue for all broadband users. Mobile broadband providers advertise their service will provide speeds ‘I tRAVEL ABRoAD A Lot AS up to the following levels (March 2009): PARt oF MY JoB’ T-Mobile 7.2Mb “In the last few years I’ve 3 3.6Mb switched from dial-up, to O2 7.2Mb Orange 3.6Mb broadband on a fixed-line and Vodafone 7.2Mb/14.4Mb then wireless. “Since moving into a new flat, However, just like with fixed broadband you won’t necessarily I’ve now got Vodafone receive these speeds, and in built-up areas you may find speed compromised. mobile broadband. “I decided to switch to mobile A June 2009 study suggested that average mobile broadband broadband after borrowing it speeds were much lower than advertised headline speeds at less than 1Mb. from a friend and being impressed by its speed and However, investment in technologies is carrying on apace – it stability. It was so easy to won’t be long before mobile broadband speeds ramp up several use and set-up as well. notches. “My employer pays for my Indeed depending on the relative merits of your fixed-line and home broadband service so I mobile broadband service, you may find that in individual cases, asked if they would consider your mobile broadband speed is better than your fixed-line. paying for mobile broadband However, for those who do a massive amount of downloading instead, and they agreed. or internet gaming, fixed-line broadband is still the only realistic “the connection works well option financially. at home in central London, Contracts: The longer the contract you sign-up for, the cheaper and I also take it on my your mobile broadband service will be. However, once you are frequent work trips to Europe. locked into a long contract, you won’t be able to benefit by If I need to download I often switching to lower price deals with faster speeds and larger switch to Wi-fi in hotels to download limits, that may come onto the market. protect my limits, but The trend by providers is to make the longer contracts look wherever I am visiting clients more attractive to customers on a cost-per-month basis. In in Europe or the UK I can addition, the early months of a contract are often heavily usually get straight on-line.” discounted to encourage you to sign-up. Simon, senior sales, technology If you sign up for a long contract your dongle is likely to be included in the monthly cost. That differs from pay-as-you-go or one-month rolling mobile broadband contracts, where you’ll have to pay for the dongle. Dongles for pay-as-you-go will cost from around £20 upwards. 16 © ConsumerChoices.co.uk 2009
  • Section 4: Pros and cons of mobile broadband Pay-as-you go mobile broadband is charged by data usage or per day. For example, T-Mobile charges £2 a day with a 2GB monthly fair usage allowance, 02 charges £2 a day for 500MB daily allowance. Three charges £10 per 1GB, £15 for 3GB and £25 for 7GB. Pay-as-you-go is particularly suitable for light and infrequent users of mobile broadband. As long as you are aware of your limits and that you’ll have to top-up again to get online once you reach your limit. VoIP on mobile broadband: Voice over internet protocol (VoIP) is as simple as using the internet to make phone calls. It has grown in popularity for calls to international destinations as it offers cheaper or even free calls. It’s estimated that as many as 10% of Londoners make some of their phone calls using VoIP. At the moment, it is still better to have a fixed broadband line if you want to use VoIP. Any small interference in the radio wave technology of the 3G network, which mobile broadband uses, will result in a dropped call and you will have to keep re-dialling. With the technology currently available, mobile broadband providers do not encourage customers to use their connection for VoIP. Some actively prohibit it; perhaps that would be to ensure you keep using your mobile phone for voice calls. International roaming: If you want to use your mobile broadband service abroad, you will have a good chance of getting a signal. International roaming charges, however, are punitive. ‘‘ HEALTH WARNING: There is a famous horror story of one UK business man who Make sure you check-out was originally charged £31,000 for downloading an episode of Prison Break while on holiday in Portugal. The charges were the cost of using your later cut to several hundred pounds. But a shock, nonetheless. dongle abroad. It could be best to buy a package FIX-IT: Many providers now require that you call up to activate of time and carefully roaming on your mobile broadband. Check the international roaming charges for your supplier. If you have to do a lot of monitor your downloads. downloading use a Wi-fi hotspot, or even switch to fixed-line at an internet cafe. For more information on international roaming charges see section 5, page 23. 17 © ConsumerChoices.co.uk 2009
  • Getting the right service for you If you haven’t had mobile broadband before, you need to do your research and make sure you find the right service for you. In this section we examine contracts versus pay-as-you-go and “free” laptop deals. We also look at the issue of costs for using your dongle abroad.
  • Section 5: Getting the right service for you  Pay-as-you-go versus contracts: Before signing-up for any type of mobile broadband deal you need to be clear how much you are going to use it. You can get mobile broadband on several different types of deals. From pay-as-you-go (you will need to purchase a dongle), rolling one-month and longer 12, 18 and 24 month contracts. With pay-as-you-go mobile broadband, you will incur the upfront cost of purchasing the dongle. Dongle prices vary widely and often depend on the features of the deal they come with – this can make choosing the right one for you research intensive. Depending on the provider you can pay for your package on a pay per day or week or month basis. Costs for pay-as-you-go start from £2 a day, but can be cheaper if you sign up for ‘‘ pay-as-you-go monthly. Mobile broadband providers such as O2 (www.O2.co.uk), 3 (www.Three.co.uk), T-Mobile (www.T-Mobile.co.uk) and You can get several Vodafone (www.Vodafone.co.uk) and Orange (www.Orange. different mobile co.uk) all offer rolling one-month and/or pay-as-you-go broadband deals from packages without long contracts. pay-as-you-go to Providers are, however, keen to sign you up for as long as 24-month contracts. possible so make the costs of longer contracts very attractive on a monthly basis and throw-in the dongle for free. These are perfect for people who will use their service regularly and make the most of their download limits. They offer great features for fees that are affordable. The table in section 4 (page 13) gives an idea of what you get for various common usage allowances. 1GB is only suitable for light web-surfing and emailing. If you are planning to keep your fixed-line broadband and supplement it with mobile broadband you need to give serious consideration to whether you should tie yourself into a contract. Another downside of taking on a long contract is that you will not be able to switch to a better deal for the duration of your contract period without incurring exit fees. 19 © ConsumerChoices.co.uk 2009
  • Section 5: Getting the right service for you  Free netbook/laptop: The rise of mobile broadband has been aided by the massive popularity of free laptop/netbook deals. These roll the cost of the laptop in with the cost of mobile broadband and the customer pays a monthly fee. Free netbooks deals generally require you to take out a 24-month contract. The beauty of “free laptop” deals is that there is no up-front cost for purchasing a laptop – perfect for these cash-strapped times. However there is a downside. Over the course of the contract you will most likely pay more in total than if you had purchased the laptop and mobile broadband packages as two separate deals. To find out where the value lies do the following: - Do a web search to find the best price for the laptop model you are being offered if you were to purchase it as a standalone. Try www.Play.com or www.eBuyer.com - Find out the cost of the 24 month mobile broadband contract without the laptop - Add the two together and compare it to the cost you’ll pay over the course of the free laptop and mobile ‘‘ broadband contract. You will find that most of these deals add £5-20 a month to the Calculate the true cost of overall costs and that can work out to be a chunky amount over a free laptop plus mobile the life of a 24-month contract. But, if you don’t want to shell broadband deal and make out up-front for the cost of the laptop, you may be happy to pay sure you aren’t paying too the extra money out. much of a premium for The other thing to watch out for with free laptop deals is that the the laptop. laptops can be quite basic and a higher specification model may better suit your requirements. However, netbooks are small and have been specifically designed to offer a long battery life and be portable – all features geared at helping the avid mobile broadband user. 20 © ConsumerChoices.co.uk 2009
  • Section 5: Getting the right service for you ‘‘  Free/low-cost mobile broadband with home broadband ‘I SPREAD tHE CoSt WItH A Virgin Media: If you are a customer of Virgin Media’s home broadband, the company offers mobile broadband starting at FREE LAPtoP DEAL’ just £5 a month for new customers. “I needed a laptop to do my coursework on and as I live in Virgin Media’s service utilises its mobile phone network which a noisy student house, I like covers 85% of the UK. You must sign-up for Virgin’s L or XL home broadband service however to qualify for its cheap mobile to escape to my bedroom and broadband. work from there. We have one fixed-line connection – but O2: If you are an O2 pay monthly mobile broadband customers there are constant arguments you can get a loyalty discount on home broadband too. over the telephone bill so I  Money back guarantees decided to opt out of the Given that even after a postcode check it’s still possible that you situation entirely. will have trouble using your mobile broadband in a particular location, consumers have rightly called for providers to introduce “I signed up for a deal which “try before you buy” deals. gave me mobile broadband and a smartish laptop and it O2 has taken the bull by the horns and offers a 30-day all works pretty well for me. happiness guarantee. The company allows customers new to mobile broadband to cancel their contract without penalty and “I can only get coverage return their dongle within 30 days if they aren’t happy with it. though when I’m close to my window – I think there’s a Similarly, Virgin Media offers a 28-day customer satisfaction multi-storey carpark in the guarantee if you aren’t satisfied your mobile broadband connection. way of the signal otherwise. “I only get 3GB of downloads Orange and 3 have 14-day money back guarantee and T-Mobile a month, so I use some says it will review problems on a case-by-case basis. Firefox plug-ins to reduce the Check their terms: Ask you service provider what their amount of data that gets current policy is if you find the mobile coverage poor in your downloaded every time I use area, even though their postcode checker suggests it will be a webpage. fine. “the plug-ins mean that the For more information on consumer rights and template letters to computer doesn’t try to load use in case of complaints see: www.consumerdirect.gov.uk pictures – and I get text only pages instead with gaps  Dongle specification: Dongles have improved over time and become much smaller where the pictures would be. and neater – resembling a USB memory stick. They all have I’m determined not to be hit differing download and upload capabilities. with extra charges from my broadband supplier.” If you are going to download a lot of documents or media make sure you get one with a good download speed – the fastest Terry, engineering student advertised is 7.2Mb. Upload speed is another consideration and these vary widely across dongles. Upload speed is an issue if you are going to be logging into a workplace network for example or uploading things like pictures or video. 21 © ConsumerChoices.co.uk 2009
  • Section 5: Getting the right service for you Some dongles also have storage capacity like a regular USB stick as an add-on. This can suit people who regularly transfer data this way – who needs two devices to carry round? New laptops are also coming into the market with built-in mobile broadband. For more on technological developments see section 6 – The future for mobile broadband.  Dongle insurance: Dongles are can be temperamental and you will be urged by your mobile broadband provider to take out dongle insurance at the point of sale in case of accidental damage, loss or theft. At an average of £5 a month for providers’ own insurance – that’s £120 a year. However you may be able to avoid this cost. Check your home insurance policy, computer accessories may be covered both ‘‘ inside and outside the house. Alternatively you could add the dongle insurance to your home Consider adding dongle insurance policy for use outside the house as an extra (at extra cover to your household cost) to your policy. insurance, or take dongle The third option is to insure your dongle independently – several insurance out with an companies offer this service and you may find this is much independent company. cheaper than going with your mobile broadband provider’s insurance. Try www.insure-your-mobile.co.uk – dongle insurance starts at £24.90 a year. * However, there are alternatives if your dongle breaks. You can buy a pay-as-you-go dongle for your service (from £40) and if your sim card is unharmed insert it in that. You could even try an electrical retailer or eBay for a low-priced dongle. If you opt for eBay however, you may find that the dongle you purchase is locked to a particular supplier, and you will need to get it unlocked by a high-street shop. If your sim card is lost or broken, your provider should provide you with a new one at minimal cost, similarly to when you lose your mobile phone’s sim card. * September 2009 22 © ConsumerChoices.co.uk 2009
  • Section 5: Getting the right service for you  International roaming: International roaming rates used to be sky-high for mobile phone usage abroad – but mobile companies have been forced by the European Union to bring prices down and introduce various deals and packages in an attempt to bring the cost in line with the average person’s pocket for holidays and trips abroad. The cost of using mobile broadband abroad however, is still expensive and you need to monitor how much downloading you’ve done to stay within your limits. However there are packages available for foreign travel from many of the providers which at least mean you know what your limits are and how much data you can use. ! These days you also have to notify or register with your provider for roaming with your mobile broadband connection. Data roaming charges per 1MB in Europe: toP tIP: If you intend to use your - Vodafone 200MB includied, £4.25 per 1MB out of bundle) dongle abroad, take roaming charges into - Three £1.25 per 1MB in Europe (£3 a list of countries account when choosing outside EU including Austrialia and USA) (£6 all other countries) your supplier. Check international roaming - T-Mobile £1.50 per 1MB (£7.50 outside EU) rates for the countries you’re likely to be in, - O2 £2.94 per 1MB (£6 outside EU), Data abroad packages are available ie 10MB for one-month before signing up. they for £20 can vary widely according to provider. - Orange £2.94 per 1MB in EU, £6.46 rest of the world So you should always check the costs you may incur before taking your dongle on your travels. Coverage rates in Europe and the US may be good but the charges are not. One good solution is to switch to Wi-fi when abroad for the bulk of your usage, or even use an internet café – the hourly rental for using a fixed-line computer will be much lower. Just 40MB of downloading incurred from sending and receiving emails in Las Vegas cost one UK businessman £180 recently. So it’s important to check with your provider, so you know what your charges are before you make the trip. 23 © ConsumerChoices.co.uk 2009
  • What’s the future? Will mobile broadband ever seriously challenge the fixed-line? We look at how the dongle might improve, and what impact the next generation of technology will have on mobile broadband. We also do some crystal ball gazing and look at the factors that may cause the cost of the service to rise in the future.
  • Section 6: What’s the future?  Death of the dongle? Dongles are the standard kit which come with most mobile broadband deals – either a USB modem or USB stick as referred to throughout this guide. Dongles continue to develop – there are over 600 on the market globally – and each new development sees new features added. Designs are getting slicker too and you can buy replacement covers in a style of your choice. Some also have data storage capacity – so you can use them as USB storage device, while others include an MP3 player. Toshiba, for example, has launched a device which is a dongle, phone, MP3 player and USB storage device. There are, however, several other ways to hook up to mobile broadband. n 3G mobile phones: Use a short USB micro-cable or the Bluetooth service to connect your laptop to your 3G phone. You ‘‘ may need to enter into a mobile broadband contract to get surfing. O2, for example, charges Ł15 a month to use the iPhone as a dongle. 4G (fourth generation) technology promises to n Laptops with built-in mobile broadband: There are bring mobile broadand several laptops already on the market with built-in mobile broadband, but you will be tied to the service provider. users higher speeds and increased download n Mobile internet: More and more people are accessing the capability in the future. internet through 3G phones, and for basic browsing and emailing, this is enough for many. You usually have to pay your service provider to have internet access on your phone, but the i cost is quickly coming down in price. And with better handsets and websites specially creating mobile phone versions of their sites, it can be very practical.  Better speed, unlimited downloads? All mobile broadband providers are investing in better Useful guides technology so they can compete with their rivals. Mobile broadband - the facts There is fierce debate over whether mobile broadband will ever www.broadbandchoices.co.uk/mobile-broadband-guide. seriously rival fixed-line broadband in terms of speed. But it html won’t stop the onward march of 4G (fourth generation) technology. This promises to bring mobile broadband users Using mobile broadband abroad higher speeds and increased download capability in the future. www.broadbandchoices.co.uk/mobile-broadband- abroad.html All about coverage and mobile broadband www.broadbandchoices.co.uk/mobile-broadband- coverage.html 25 © ConsumerChoices.co.uk 2009
  • Section 6: What’s the future? High-speed packet access (HSPA) is an added improvement to 3G – techies refer to it as 3.5G – and it has already evolved several times since it first arrived. Vodafone launched 14.4Mb mobile broadband this year utilising the latest form of high-speed package access called HSPA+. It also had MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) technology. MIMO means both the handset and the mast have two separate data streams – the two steams mean that the signal quality is better in built-up areas. The ultimate aim of mobile broadband technology is to reach such fast speeds (100Mb+) that it will take over from fixed-line broadband. But even with additions like HSPA+, MIMO and others, some experts say that mobile broadband will always be held hostage by two things – the possibility of signal interference, and server constraints.  Will mobile broadband become more expensive? The answer is yes and no. In the short-term, fight for market share will keep prices down as companies seek to get more and more customers on board. The rise of mobile broadband has distorted the payment ‘‘ structure of both fixed-line and mobile broadband. Mobile broadband is being offered at artificially cheap levels as companies build their market share. the rise of mobile broadband has distorted They have made massive investment in 3G technology and will need to claw-back these costs before long. It is possible in the the payment structure next 12 months that companies will widen their pricing of both fixed-line and distinction between light/medium mobile broadband users and mobile broadband. heavy downloaders. However, it can be argued that the popularity of mobile broadband is forcing fixed-line providers to offer better deals to the customer which include things like free broadband in home phone bundles. But as we all become more PC-dependent for our home entertainment needs – perhaps watching more live streaming and downloading more films and TV programmes – we’ll want better speeds and download limits. It is possible that costs of mobile broadband for the average person could rise. The only thing that’s for sure is that the level of investment being put into 4G technology at the moment is a huge drain on the finances of mobile broadband providers. One way or another they’ll have to see more money flowing back in their coffers in the medium-term. 26 © ConsumerChoices.co.uk 2009
  • Summary Provider Contract length Download limits Speed Wi-fi included? (depending on package) O2 30-day rolling/1-month/18-month/24-month 3GB /10GB 7.2Mb Yes T-Mobile PAYG/3-and12-month prepay/18-month 3GB /10GB 7.2Mb Yes /24month Vodafone PAYG/12-month/18-month /24-month 1GB /3GB/5GB 7.2/14.4Mb No 3 PAYG/30-day/12-month/18-month 1GB /5GB/15GB 3.6Mb No Orange 30-day/12-month/18-month 500MB/1GB/3GB/10GB 3.6Mb No Virgin 12-month/18-month 1GB/3GB 3Mb No Media Glossary ADSL – The technology that allows the copper phone lines to support high-speed broadband 3G – radio technology that aids fast data transfer – including music and video 4G – fourth generation technology. Promises higher speed mobile broadband access and higher download limits Dongle – A USB modem that facilitates a wireless connection to the internet Downloading – Transferring files from the internet directly onto your computer HSPA – High speed packet access – enables swifter downloading of documents and attachments Netbook: A smaller, lighter version of a laptop computer designed for using with mobile broadband Wi-fi – Stands for wireless fidelity. Wi-fi allows you to connect to the internet without cables as long as you are within reach (100m) of wireless hotspot and have appropriate kit such as a USB wireless adap- tor. You may have to pay to use a Wi-fi hotspot. Wi-max – (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) allows wireless intenet access over large areas. Think of it as a giant hotspot. 27 © ConsumerChoices.co.uk 2009
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