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3 Mobile Broadband Review

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Best Mobile Broadband Editor Chris High places an order for 3 Pay As You Go Mobile Broadband and puts it through its paces ...

Overall Rating for 3 Mobile Broadband and Conclusion: 8/10

ZTE MF112 Pay As You Go Dongle from 3 MobileOverall, 3 Mobile Broadband gets a thumbs up, and will usually give a serviceable internet connection when in towns and cities. However, for a comprehensive review, more extensive testing is needed in more densely populated areas which can have network overload issues, and this will be done in time and added to the review. Those looking for a mobile broadband service to use on their travels should definitely consider 3, as it represents good value, and in our testing so far it has usually given a broadband speed good enough to stream video. As a Pay As You Go mobile broadband connection to use when out and about, then given the reasonable speed results I've had so far, and the affordable cost of £31.94 to get up and running with the entry level product, I would say that 3 is worth a go.

Those looking to use 3 mobile broadband as their main connection at home should consider a contract for better data usage costs, and will need to be in a good signal area. Note however that 3 does allow returns if the signal is found to be poor.

3 Mobile Broadband Ease of Ordering: 7/10

USB Modem Ordered: ZTE MF112 Pay As You Go including 1GB Allowance
Modem Cost: £29.99
Administration Charge: £1.95
Total Cost: £31.94
Date of Order: Friday 14 May 2010

Generally it was easy to make the purchase and everything was communicated clearly. There were a few minor niggles though. The order confirmation screen was not formatted correctly and displayed only as basic text, but this was probably a result of the recent redesign of the 3 website. Also, if you decide to view the Terms and Conditions during the order process, your credit card details can get cleared.  If the Terms and Conditions opened in a new window, this wouldn't happen. The £1.95 administration charge is also a little sneaky as this is not brought to your attention when choosing and buying the modem.

3 Mobile Broadband Order Delivery: 6/10

Date of Arrival: Saturday 22 May 2010
Time Taken for Order to Arrive: 6 days
Delivery Firm: Royal Mail

I've marked harshly because the 3 Mobile Broadband dongle took six days to arrive, a lot longer than any of the other providers. The order documentation is clear although it is not tailored specifically to mobile broadband, just a generic 3 mobile phone. This might not be a problem except that you might want to try your dongle to see if it works, but the documents are saying "In order to be eligible for the 14 days Peace of Mind Guarantee you must not have used your handset." However, the returns policy for dongles is different, as you are allowed to see if the dongle works for you. We subsequently discovered the full Returns Policy for the USB dongle is detailed in the Pay As You Go SIM pack.

3 Mobile Broadband Ease of Setup: 10/10

I found the 3 Pay As You Go Modem very easy to set up on Windows Vista. The setup guide was very clear, and there was a nice diagram explaining how to insert the SIM card into the modem. Once I plugged the modem in, I was prompted to install the software and there was a simple installation process involving only a few steps. The software took a few minutes to fully install, and we then had the 3 Mobile Broadband connection window up and running. The short extender cable included proved very useful, as the slight difference in modem positioning this allowed meant I was able to get an HSPA connection. On first use, browsing performance was good, and for web page and forum browsing I couldn't tell much difference between the mobile broadband connection and my normal 6.5 Mbps home broadband connection.

3 Mobile Broadband Ease of Top Up: 8/10

I've given 3 a good mark for ease of Top Up, because the Top Up process is clear and easy to follow. Once you have the connection manager software running, you go to the My3 account tab, from which there's a button to take you to your online My3 account. Providing you are using the 3 Mobile Broadband connection to access the internet, you will get logged in to your My3 account automatically. If you have a good local mobile broadband signal, everything will be straightforward and simple. However, if you are in a poor signal area, attempting Top Up can be painful. In poor signal areas, there can be only brief periods of good connection performance, so you can find yourself trying to rush through the credit card details screen and the additional bank card verification screen to get your Top Up done. When I tried under such conditions, it took me three attempts and approximately half an hour to get the Top Up completed.

If you are in a poor signal area, you could resort to doing the Top Up whilst using your home broadband connection. However, this means you no longer get automatically logged in to your My3 account, and you will have to register for the service. That's fine, apart from it involves being sent a validation text message, which in theory you should be able to pick up using the text functionality of the 3 Connection Software. In practice, I found that the interface could not receive Texts, and I even sent it a text message from my mobile to confirm this. I spoke to 3 Customer Services, and the person I spoke to did sound as though they knew what they were talking about, and gave me some settings to configure SMS receipt (held in the Extra / SMS Centers menu). However, as yet I am still unable to receive texts. I'll give it a bit of time and try in a better signal area to see if it resolves itself.

3 Mobile Broadband Connection Software Usability: 8/10

The connection software is clear and intuitive. However, the data usage figures it gives are just an estimate and you have to login to your My3 account to get the exact figures.

Pictured: The 3Connect interface that controls your 3 Mobile Broadband connection.

3 Mobile Broadband Connection Performance: 7/10

Fastest mobile broadband speed obtained so far: 3.44 Mb/s Download.
Slowest mobile broadband speed obtained so far: 0.31 Mb/s Download.
Average broadband speed from testing so far: 1.22 Mb/s, based on 16 results.

To test mobile broadband performance, I tried to use 3 mobile broadband at multiple locations, and at different times and days of the week, as time of usage can make a big difference to performance. At the end of this review I list all the test results, so that you can see the kind of broadband speeds possible. I will need to keep adding to the results, as I have not tried the service in major cities yet, where network load may start to become a real issue. So far, I've decided to give the service 7/10, as connection performance has usually been fine for basic web browsing, and in most cases fine for streaming video, but more tests are required. What is clear from the tests is that mobile broadband performance varies wildly according to location, and the time you are connecting can come into play too. In some cases it's very good, for example the 3.44 Mb/s achieved in the car park of Waitrose Salisbury, which would be faster than many home broadband connections. However, for the lowest speed achieved in testing so far, 0.45 Mb/s, you are very aware that you are using mobile broadband, i.e. the surfing experience is a bit laggy and you can't stream video without pauses. It's also true to say that this test did not include any tests outside of 3G areas, e.g. rural areas, where mobile broadband would use GPRS and would consequently be very slow. If you are intending to buy mobile broadband to use when out and about on your travels, this variation in service quality shouldn't be too big an issue, because more often than not you will get a good connection speed, particularly if you are staying in built-up areas. If you want to use mobile broadband as your main broadband connection at home, you will need to be in a good coverage area otherwise the online experience is likely to be too frustrating. When buying for home use, you can take some comfort from the fact that you are allowed to return the modem if you are not satisfied with your home signal quality.

3 Mobile Broadband Value for Money: 9/10

Value for money is a big strong point for the 3 Network. The total cost of acquiring the Pay As You Go modem was £31.94, which included 1GB of data (although this does expire after 30 days). As at June 2010 the cost of topping up is £10 for 1GB, which we feel represents good value.

If you are going to be using 3 broadband as your main home connection, you should be looking at a monthly contract, as these are much better value for high data usage, e.g. a 1GB per month contract is £7.50 per month, and a 5GB per month contract is £15 per month.

3 Mobile Broadband Speed Test Results

Below I list all the broadband speed tests conducted so far:.

Location: Queen Alexandra Road, Salisbury, SP2 9LL (Indoors)
3 Mobile Broadband Coverage Map Says: Outdoor coverage available, i.e. you may struggle to get a signal indoors.
3Connect Software Shows Signal Type As: 3G
Speed test results at 21:18 on 26 May 2010:
1.75 Mb/s Download
0.89 Mb/s Upload
201ms Ping
YouTube Streaming Performance: Good. All videos tried streamed without any delays.
Number of disconnections during test period: None.

Location: Queen Alexandra Road, Salisbury, SP2 9LL (Indoors)
3 Mobile Broadband Coverage Map Says: Outdoor coverage available, i.e. you may struggle to get a signal indoors.
3Connect Software Shows Signal Type As: 3G
Speed test results at 15:55 on 3 June 2010:
Download: 0.71 Mb/s
Upload: 0.64 Mb/s
Ping: 134 ms
YouTube Streaming Performance: Good. Videos streamed fine, I only experienced two pauses.
Number of disconnections during test period: None.

Location: Queen Alexandra Road, Salisbury, SP2 9LL (Indoors)
3 Mobile Broadband Coverage Map Says: Outdoor coverage available, i.e. you may struggle to get a signal indoors.
3Connect Software Shows Signal Type As: 3G
Speed test results at 17:01 on 3 June 2010:
Download: 0.45 Mb/s
Upload: 0.71 Mb/s
Ping: 197 ms
YouTube Streaming Performance: Streaming was possible, but with frequent pauses of 5 to 10s.
Number of disconnections during test period: None.

Location: Queen Alexandra Road, Salisbury, SP2 9LL (Indoors)
3 Mobile Broadband Coverage Map Says: Outdoor coverage available, i.e. you may struggle to get a signal indoors.
3Connect Software Shows Signal Type As: 3G
Speed test results at 17:56 on 3 June 2010:
Download: 0.64 Mb/s
Upload: 0.76 Mb/s
Ping: 146 ms
Possible to browse basic web pages: Yes.
YouTube Streaming Performance: Streaming possible, but with a few delays.
Number of disconnections during test period: None.

Location: Waitrose Car Park, Salisbury, SP2 7TS (Inside Car)
Coverage Map Says: Optimum signal area, indoor and outdoor coverage.
Software Shows Signal Type As: 3G
Speed test results at 11:22 on Weds 9 June 2010:
Download: 2.96 Mb/s
Upload: 1.61 Mb/s
Ping: 121 ms
Possible to browse basic web pages: Yes.
YouTube Streaming Performance: Good streaming.
Number of disconnections during test period: None.

Location: Waitrose Car Park, Salisbury, SP2 7TS (Inside Car)
Coverage Map Says: Optimum signal area, indoor and outdoor coverage.
Software Shows Signal Type As: HSPA
Speed test results at 11:34 on Weds 9 June 2010:
Download: 3.44 Mb/s
Upload: 1.44 Mb/s
Ping: 147 ms
Possible to browse basic web pages: Yes.
YouTube Streaming Performance: Good streaming.
Number of disconnections during test period: None.

Location: Southampton University Avenue Campus, SO17 1BF, Indoors
Coverage Map Says: Optimum signal area, indoor and outdoor coverage.
Software Shows Signal Type As: HSPA
Speed test results at 19.40 on Sat 19 June 2010:
Download: 2.11 Mb/s
Upload: 0.59 Mb/s
Ping: 137 ms
Possible to browse basic web pages: Yes.
YouTube Streaming Performance: Good streaming.
Number of disconnections during test period: None.

Location: Southampton University Avenue Campus, SO17 1BF, Indoors
Coverage Map Says: Optimum signal area, indoor and outdoor coverage.
Software Shows Signal Type As: HSPA
Speed test results at 19.44 on Sat 19 June 2010:
Download: 1.88 Mb/s
Upload: 0.32 Mb/s
Ping: 225 ms
Possible to browse basic web pages: Yes.
YouTube Streaming Performance: Good streaming.
Number of disconnections during test period: None.

Location: Southampton University Avenue Campus, SO17 1BF, Indoors
Coverage Map Says: Optimum signal area, indoor and outdoor coverage.
Software Shows Signal Type As: HSPA
Speed test results at 19.50 on Sat 19 June 2010:
Download: 1.00 Mb/s
Upload: 0.32 Mb/s
Ping: 143 ms
Possible to browse basic web pages: Yes.
YouTube Streaming Performance: Good streaming.
Number of disconnections during test period: None.

Location: Lymington Quay, Hampshire, SO41 3AS, Indoors
Coverage Map Says: Optimum signal area, indoor and outdoor coverage.
Software Shows Signal Type As: 3G
Speed test results at 15.50 on Sat 10 July 2010:
Download:1.09 Mb/s
Upload: 0.65 Mb/s
Ping: 122 ms
Possible to browse basic web pages: Yes.
YouTube Streaming Performance: Streaming possible, but with a few pauses.
Number of disconnections during test period: None.

Location: Lymington Quay, Hampshire, SO41 3AS, Indoors
Coverage Map Says: Optimum signal area, indoor and outdoor coverage.
Software Shows Signal Type As: 3G
Speed test results at 16.06 on Sat 10 July 2010:
Download: 0.60 Mb/s
Upload: 0.41 Mb/s
Ping: 129 ms
Possible to browse basic web pages: Yes.
YouTube Streaming Performance: Streaming possible.
Number of disconnections during test period: None.

Location: Lymington Quay, Hampshire, SO41 3AS, Indoors
Coverage Map Says: Optimum signal area, indoor and outdoor coverage.
Software Shows Signal Type As: 3G
Speed test results at 16.15 on Sat 10 July 2010:
Download: 1.04 Mb/s
Upload: 0.70 Mb/s
Ping: 150 ms
Possible to browse basic web pages: Yes.
YouTube Streaming Performance: Streaming possible.
Number of disconnections during test period: None.

Location: Lymington Quay, Hampshire, SO41 3AS, Indoors
Coverage Map Says: Optimum signal area, indoor and outdoor coverage.
Software Shows Signal Type As: 3G
Speed test results at 20.19 on Sun 11 July 2010:
Download: 0.46 Mb/s
Upload: 0.43 Mb/s
Ping: 143 ms
Possible to browse basic web pages: Yes.
YouTube Streaming Performance: Streaming possible, but with some pauses.
Number of disconnections during test period: None.

Location: Lymington Quay, Hampshire, SO41 3AS, Indoors
Coverage Map Says: Optimum signal area, indoor and outdoor coverage.
Software Shows Signal Type As: HSPA
Speed test results at 20.28 on Sun 11 July 2010:
Download: 0.31 Mb/s
Upload: 0.40 Mb/s
Ping: 151 ms
Possible to browse basic web pages: Yes.
YouTube Streaming Performance: Streaming possible, but with frequent pauses.
Number of disconnections during test period: None.

Location: Lymington Quay, Hampshire, SO41 3AS, Indoors
Coverage Map Says: Optimum signal area, indoor and outdoor coverage.
Software Shows Signal Type As: 3G
Speed test results at 17.37 on Mon 12 July 2010:
Download: 0.45 Mb/s
Upload: 0.32 Mb/s
Ping: 140 ms
Possible to browse basic web pages: Yes.
YouTube Streaming Performance: Streaming possible, but with some pauses.
Number of disconnections during test period: None.

Location: Lymington Quay, Hampshire, SO41 3AS, Indoors
Coverage Map Says: Optimum signal area, indoor and outdoor coverage.
Software Shows Signal Type As: 3G
Speed test results at 17.41 on Mon 12 July 2010:
Download: 0.58 Mb/s
Upload: 0.34 Mb/s
Ping: 131 ms
Possible to browse basic web pages: Yes.
YouTube Streaming Performance: Streaming possible, but with some pauses.
Number of disconnections during test period: One.