Mobile broadband or WiFi? You betcha
Horses for wireless courses
Our increasing appetite for sending and receiving data on the move fuels ever increasing need for wireless connectivity. Wi-Fi access and mobile broadband are usual ways of meeting this need. So what's best?
At this stage, WiFi is ahead in convenience terms, but it is debatable by how much - particularly when roaming - and for how long. Most notebooks shipping today incorporate embedded WiFi connectivity – which is about as convenient as it gets.
Mobile broadband today typically requires a USB dongle or data card, which a user has to buy, remember to carry around with them, as well as ensure it doesn’t get lost or damaged. But we are now starting to see the emergence of laptops with integrated mobile broadband. In terms of accessibility, this is should put mobile broadband on par with WiFi.
The gap begins to widen when assessing fitness for purpose. At this stage, users should themselves what they require connectivity for, how long they need it, and where they will be when they need to connect. Factors include what the connection is being used for, e.g. reading/sending email, document access, browsing, and whether connectivity is required at a static location, or on the move, e.g. on a train.
WiFi generally offers high speeds via a reliable connection, although speed may be affected if the wireless network is heavily congested. WiFi also limits mobility to the range of the WiFi network – typically around 100m. When locating hotspots, at first glance there are a vast number. But advance research is necessary to verify if the available hotspots suit the user requirement. Often, hotspots are limited to locations such as cafes and bars, and do not necessarily cover other locations such as train stations (although new hotspots are continually appearing). Also, users need to arrange access to wireless networks, many of which come at a price.
Ándale! Ándale! Arriba!
Mobile broadband already provides almost ubiquitous connectivity, without the issue of network range and accessibility. This comes at a price, as mobile broadband is often slower than a WiFi connection. But this is an ever-evolving picture, with mobile operators determined to stay in the game. Vodafone Spain, for example, recently completed a successful mobile broadband trial, which achieved peak data download rates of up to 16 Mbps.
The story gets more complex when it comes to costs. WiFi in the home or office results in no new costs after configuration costs to hook in to the network. When users move beyond these boundaries, additional costs are incurred for access to public hotspot. Some locations offer free WiFi access, and in an ideal world, a user would assess, well in advance, the pros and cons associated with a given hotspot. This isn’t always practical or simple and users need to ensure their computer is configured to minimise the risks – we discuss this below.
Mobile broadband pricing is increasingly competitive, with low priced monthly subscriptions becoming more common. And pay as you go offers are coming onto the market. But packages are often accompanied by restrictive download limit: service providers want to control the high cost associated with transferring data across the 3G network and prevent the network from being overloaded. But users with heavy download requirements can rack up high charges very quickly, particularly if they do not actively monitor their usage.
International roaming is another complication. With mobile roaming charges often at high levels it makes sense to investigate available WiFi options at utilised locations, for example within a hotel.
Next page: Security blanket
3G isn't Broadband,
Even 14.4Mbps HSPA+ isn't broadband
100ms + latency common
Disconnects or not able to connect. Certainly not "Always on"
Up to 50% coverage variation when more users connect
Speeds below dialup if the sector is full.
Mobile might be an alternative to Dialup. It's MOBILE. not an alternative for WiFi or real Broadband.
It's technically Mobile Midband.
Comments on Ireland's NBS using i-HSPA from 3
Mobile (so called) "Broadband" and Mobile WiMax is incredibly over sold. It can only approach Broadband when the signal is near perfect and no-one else is using the mast. Even so the latency is terrible.
Because of how HSDPA works, at 250ms a 2Mbps Mobile connection will take longer to load a web page than 1Mbps VSAT at 790ms Latency (2 way satellite).
VOIP performance and capacity using a decent codec is laughable on HSDPA. 3G native calls are better quality and you can have about 10 to 20 for each VOIP call.
Mobile "broadband" Yeah!
I have a 3 mobile broadband account - 5GB for £7.50 per month. Bargain! But it's slow, unreliable and coverage is very patchy even in urban areas or main towns/cities. I perservere with it only because it is so cheap (special offer through Quidco, it was half the normal cost) and it does the job in an emergency, but tbh it's performance is no better than dial-up at best.
Must it be either / or?
I have a limited need for internet while on the move, but it always annoyed me that I couldn't get it on the occasions I've needed it. What I wanted was pay as you go, but all the deals that claim to be PAYG are nothing of the sort. I've ended up going with Virgin's offer - a fiver a month, albeit for only 1GB.
It remains to be seen what kind of speed I can get out of it, however. I've heard vastly varying reports, but no-one claiming it's at all consistent. If only all the wifi providers would band together and offer a "broadband anywhere" service, with wifi in conjunction with mobile broadband for ubiquitous coverage. Surely that's the way the market will go in the end?
Joikuspot + netbook?
That's what I use. Works well enough to stream Youtube. And when roaming, I don't need anything better than that.
Who are these people who NEED to download gigabytes of data in milliseconds while roaming?
Mobile Broadband Rules
Having bought an eee some time ago I decided it made sense to accompany such a portable device with an equally portable connection of some kind so I bought me a 3 (UK) PAYG dongle (Huawei E220) for a pretty reasonable 40 quid. I'd read reviews and I'd heard the service was abysmal but never one to take reviews as gospel truth I figured I'd give it a go. At £10/1GB, £15/3GB or £25/7GB it's pricey to say the least (not to mention the fact that topups expire after 30 days). However, the convenience of being able to connect pretty much anywhere made me overlook the costs because I knew I'd only use it occasionally and I wouldn't be doing anything particularly heavy with it, that's what ADSL is for.
Now I'm glad I did, but right out of the box I wasn't quite as pleased. Trying to make the dongle install properly was a right pain in the ass despite the dongle having a U3-style flash based optical drive simulator with the drivers on it. The drivers are awful, the connection to the laptop would often just flat out die or it would seem to be connected yet would not be recognised. Terrible, pathetic, nasty, cheap... just plain crap. When I eventually got the thing installed, the device itself seemed stable but the connection it provided wasn't so much.
Now I've taken the SIM from the dongle and put it into an HTC Tytn II and it's absolutely brilliant. I don't get 3G at home but why would I need to when I have ADSL already? In an emergency though I can get GPRS which makes it a nice backup even if it's not particularly quick. Out and about, however, I do get HSDPA, and when I have that HSDPA it really is like having broadband in your pocket, it far surpassed my expectations. As an added bonus, with every topup I get 90 days of Skype traffic for free outside of my regular usage.
So in summary, if you have a decent device to connect with and you have a half decent signal, HSDPA rocks. If you have a cheaply made dongle with drivers that could've easily been written by a 5 year old and a mediocre signal then you'll probably be less lucky. It's extremely convenient but it's also extremely expensive. On the other hand, WIFI is faster and more consistent if you're not going anywhere. Most access points these days seem to be secured (so no "borrowing" WIFI) and I'm not sure I'd want to pay for a connection I could only use at (for example) Starbucks which is insecure and only works in one location when I could drop the same cash on a top up for my HSDPA and go anywhere with it.
Oh yeah, one final point, make sure you bring a portable nuclear power station, those HSDPA radios suck juice like a class full of preschoolers at cookie time.