Review 3 has an advantage in that it only offers a 3G service and it has a smaller user base than its rivals, so competition for its bandwidth should be less than it is for the others.
The Windows-based connection manager is basic but does the job and more importantly it fired up from the dongle with no fuss or bother.
3's entry-level package will set you back £7.50 a month for 18 or 24 months with a 1GB limit on the amount of data you can download or upload. Go over that limit and you will be charged 10p a megabyte. For other users, 3 offers a 5GB plan for £15 a month for 18/24 months, and a 15GB which will cost you either £30 a month for 18 months, or £25 a month for two years.
Update Since retrieving these prices from the 3 website on 7 May, the cellco has reduced the 15GB price to £15 (two-year contract) and £20 (18-month contract).
3 has a Sim-only one-month contract for £15. For that you get a 5GB data allowance. Pay £10 and you get a dongle too.
If you want to pay as you go, 3 will sell you a ZTE MF112 modem for £30 (1GB data allowance), £40 (3GB) or £80 (12GB).
3 also offers a range of pay-monthly and pay-as-you-go packages based on Huawei's 3G modem, branded as the MiFi because it has a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot you can use to share the connection with laptops, phones and so on.
Overseas data rates are £1.25 per megabyte within the EU and selected other European countries; £3 per MB in the US, Australia, Thailand and a handful of other places; and £6 per megabyte everywhere else.
3 reckons that 92 per cent of its UK network will get a maximum download speed of 7.2Mb/s while 74 per cent of it can get a 3.6Mb/s upload speed. 3 and Vodafone where the only networks that promised solid HSDPA performance at all three of my test sites and both were good to their word. As well as delivering the best average performance the 3 dongle also delivered the single fastest individual download result of 3.64Mb/s.
Usefully, 3 offers a 14-day money-back guarantee, and the 15GB plans include unlimited Skype-to-Skype calls. ®
Not my experience with 3
I still have a 3 dongle and for most of the Midlands (Leicester, Nottingham, Derby, Brum) its bloody appalling. Average speeds rarely exceed 250kbps downstream and upstream is under 100kbps. At peak times you can forget it - websites like news.bbc.co.uk simply don't work as the connection is so slow that most of the links on the page have timed out.
Nothing to do with signal strength either. Overloaded backhaul is the problem - not surprisingly since 3 own little to no infrastructure outside the M25.
One thing to watch is that speedtest.net (and others) is frequently given higher priority than other sites simply because of articles like this.
I wouldn't wish 3 "broadband" on my worst enemy.
3G Dongle + SD slot + usb_modeswitch script = plug 'n' play
I use the storage space to keep the scripts to activate the modem - like my own zeroconf cd.
3G Dongle + SD slot + Ubuntu OS = control
The article states that the inclusion of an SD slot seems less than useful, seem not to realise that this allows users to get rid of the need to carry a usb memory stick, which can of course be used to carry a coy of things like the Ubuntu OS, thereby giving the user control of the ISP used and the scope to bypass a host computers untrusted OS.