It’s the rest of the solution that doesn’t yet cut the mustard. Orange’s Flexible Data deals with the Option 2 initially look pretty good. You can buy the modem for a mere £25.52 and then simply pay as and when you use it at a flat rate of £1 per MB. You also get Wi-Fi access at hotspots for 9p per minute (BT Openzone and WeRoam hotspots in the UK) and roaming data is £6.50 per MB.
This is a pretty good solution for a backup when your wired link at home goes down, as it’s always available and you’re not tied to an expensive data contract. It also means, as long as you remember to pack it, you don’t have to go hunting for an Internet café if you’ve got an urgent email to send or you need to log on to the office network while out and about.
But when you start to consider using the Option 2 for more intensive use the tariffs start to look a little meaner. Pay £19.30 per month and all you get is an allowance of 160MB; £33.78 gets you a meagre 318MB and you have to go all the way up to £43.43 for a 1GB allowance. In today’s connected world, it’s quite easy to download several hundred megabytes in a day, just through general email correspondence and moderate Internet browsing – these prices and allowances are simply not realistic.
To illustrate this, I paid a visit to Gmail, logged in and opened an email containing a link to a friend’s Facebook profile. By the time I’d clicked that link and waited for everything to finish downloading – a process that only took a minute or two from start to finish, I’d racked up nearly half a megabyte’s worth of download – and that’s with the Orange service’s image compression working away to reduce page sizes.
And performance, as yet, is far from the broadband-busting speed advertised on the modem’s box (if my experience of using the service over several days is anything to go by). Once I’d installed the modem I found I was able to achieve a pretty reliable HSDPA connection in locations in central London and the suburb. In tests in central London and the suburbs, I wasn’t even able to breach the 1.8Mbit/sec barrier, with downloads peaking at 1.5Mbit/sec.