Ever since I had to switch my broadband account last Christmas after a particularly bad dose of customer service from Bulldog, I've been hoping for a decent alternative to wired broadband. I don't know if it's just me, but I just don't like the way the broadband industry has consumers over a barrel in this country. It's not the contracts or the much-publicised over-ambitious speed claims that bug me, but the delay and downtime you have to go through if you want to do something as simple as switch providers.
Mobile phone companies such as Orange could hold the key to the broadband conundrum, and are currently working on being able to offer broadband-style speeds over the air on mobile phone networks. HSDPA at 3.6Mbit/sec is already widely available - and the next step up on the ladder is 7.2Mbit/sec, with all the major providers currently in the throes of attempting to roll out a service. At these speeds you could feasibly dump BT completely if you're not a heavy broadband user, and though you might have to tie yourself into a 12 or 18 month contract, at least you won't have to wait for a week while BT's engineers decide whether it's worth actually putting their cups of tea down and doing some work for a change.
Orange's rather tortuously-named Option ICON 2 USB Modem is the kit you need to access such a service. It can support the very latest 7.2Mbit/sec HSDPA speeds, and under ideal conditions it should be able to deliver a broadband experience to rival the service most people receive from their wired broadband supplier. Alas, it turns out to be a bit of a disappointment.
I'm not talking about the hardware here. That seems to be well-designed enough. To set it all up, all you need to do is take it out of the box, plug it into a spare USB socket, either directly or using the supplied stubby USB extension cable, and the rest is taken care of automatically. The software and drivers required for connecting your laptop to the Orange network is squirted onto your computer for you, a process that works on both Macs and PCs, and all you have to do to get online is click the Connect button on the small application window that pops up.
It even installs an SMS utility so you can send texts from your laptop without having to stab away at the keypad on your mobile phone. It's not the most elegantly designed piece of kit and its home-made ice lolly shape is both awkward and on the large side, but it doesn't weigh a lot and it is easy enough to bung in a laptop bag with all your other bits and pieces.