There is a lot of trust placed in mobile broadband. It's understandable, what the service promotes is fundamentally appealing: fast, 24/7 access to the Internet from your laptop or netbook wherever you may be. So why are so many users angry and frustrated about a technological revolution that should set them free? And perhaps more importantly: what can be done about it?
I've been writing about mobile broadband for five years now, watching it evolve, seeing our expectations grow and I'm familiar with all the major providers, their arguments, what they have planned and I think I have some answers for you. So find your favourite comfy chair and sit tight because no-one is going to get an easy ride. Networks look away now.
There's only one place to start...
Everything started so well. Let's cast our minds back to the first mobile broadband product to hit the UK. It was the Vodafone Mobile Connect Card (pictured) which our editor Riyad reviewed way back in 2004. As with many new first generation technologies it was expensive and performance was limited.
How expensive? Try an entry price of £11.75pm for a data allowance of five megabytes per month! Outside of this every additional megabyte was £2.35 and the Connect Card (only coming in the PC Card form factor) was bulky, often required the use of an additional aerial and cost £199. From here you could pay £23.50, £53 or £88.13 per month for an allowance of 75MB, 450MB or 1GB and speeds were restricted to 384Kbit/sec downstream and maximum uploads of 64Kbit/sec.
And yet Riyad loved it, in fact we all loved it. Why? Firstly, because here was a product which transformed the way we could work and play. It freed you from wireless hotspots and took productivity to new levels. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, because we knew how to treat it. Here are some particularly relevant Riyad quotes:
Once in a while something comes along that restores my faith in cutting edge technology, a product that works so well that it makes me wonder how I ever managed to survive without it
I'd probably go for the Medium User plan, where £23.50 buys you 75MB of downloadable data. Now this might not seem like a lot, but I wouldn't be using the Mobile Connect for downloading files, I could wait until I was in the office or at home for that. I'd probably limit my usage to email and necessary Web browsing, not to mention uploading stories to TrustedReviews. You'd need to regularly click the Usage button to make sure that you don't stray too far over your quota and end up with a huge bill though.
Of course these statements may sound horribly antiquated, but they make two key points which are relevant still today: that this was indeed the dawn of a new way of computing and it should be treated differently than you would a home broadband connection. In the five years that have passed, we've rather forgotten about both of these. And who do I blame? No, not us. I blame the networks.