If you’re a regular reader of TrustedReviews you’re probably well aware that I’m a fan of 3G data cards. Being able to get online with my notebook pretty much anywhere is a huge bonus for me, and I never leave the office without a notebook and 3G data card in my bag.
When I reviewed the Vodafone Mobile Connect card back in September 2004 I was surprised at how well it performed, while the Orange Mobile Office Card that I looked at a year later showed that Vodafone didn’t have things all its own way. Both those cards provided a download speed of 384Kbit/sec, which was only slightly slower than entry level broadband, and made working out of the office a reality.
But as fast as 384Kbit/sec seemed a year or so ago, it’s starting to look a little tired now as broadband speeds increase, so it’s probably a good thing that HSDPA has finally broken cover. HSDPA or High Speed Downlink Packet Access is an evolution of the 3G data standard and provides a significant increase in speed, so much so that network operators in the UK have called the new standard “Mobile Broadband”.
I had fully expected the first HSDPA device I reviewed to be a Vodafone card, but it was actually T-Mobile that got the hardware to me first. In fact the T-Mobile HSDPA service won’t be live to customers until the beginning of August, but the company allowed me access to the network early in order to write this review.
It comes as no surprise that T-Mobile has gone with hardware from Option, since the company has traditionally manufactured the best data cards. Orange used different hardware for its first 3G data card, but it proved to be a major disappointment, while the second generation card used Option hardware.
As well as supporting UMTS and GPRS the Web “n” Walk card also has integrated Wi-Fi in both 802.11b and g flavours. This is particularly useful since you get 12 months worth of free T-Mobile hotspot access bundled with the card. This doesn’t include hotspot roaming abroad, but it’s still a great inclusion from T-Mobile.
The T-Mobile Communication Center application that controls the data card is pretty well thought out for the most part. It’s small enough to sit unobtrusively on your desktop, but still manages to tell you everything you need to know. If there’s one criticism it’s that the application will default to Wi-Fi if it detects a hotspot and forcing it to use UMTS instead isn’t as obvious as it could be. At the far right is a large button for connecting to/disconnecting from the selected network, and on the right side of this button is a tiny arrow, clicking that arrow brings up a list of available networks and here you can choose what you want to connect to – not particularly intuitive, but only a minor gripe.
Of course you can also send and receive SMS messages directly from the Communication Center application, which can be pretty handy. There’s also a constantly updated signal strength indicator, clear indication of whether you’re connected via Wi-Fi, UMTS or GPRS and a usage monitor so you can keep track of the amount of data you’ve downloaded.
I’ve been using the Web “n” Walk card for the past week or so and I have to say that I’m very impressed. Wandering around the West End of London I had absolutely no problem getting strong UMTS coverage, along with the full 1.8Mbit/sec download speed. The download speeds from this card are nothing short of staggering, and even browsing a very graphic heavy site like TrustedReviews was pretty much instantaneous. To put things in basic terms, with this card I can work as fast sitting in Hyde Park as I can sitting at my desk in the TrustedReviews office!
T-Mobile quotes HSDPA coverage for 65 per cent of the UK population. This means that there’s full coverage in metropolitan areas, but obviously you’re unlikely to find HSDPA service in more rural areas. That said, even in the TrustedReviews office out in Ascot, I managed to get a full HSDPA connection with lightning fast download speeds.
It’s also worth remembering that 1.8Mbit/sec is just the tip of the HSDPA iceberg – next year we should see a jump to 3.6Mbit/sec and by 2008 7.2Mbit/sec should be available. Unfortunately it looks like current hardware won’t be compatible with the 3.6Mbit/sec standard, so an upgrade will be necessary. However, T-Mobile informed me that the 3.6Mbit/sec hardware should be compatible with the 7.2Mbit/sec standard. To be honest, I wouldn’t let future standards put you off the first generation of HSDPA, because it really is a massive step in the right direction for mobile workers.
If there’s one thing that T-Mobile has done really well over the past year or so, it’s offering great deals on data contracts. But even by T-Mobile’s own standards, the offer that it has put together for the Web “n” Walk card is truly outstanding. If you take out an 18 month contract you’ll get the card absolutely free. Then for £20 per month you’ll have an amazing 2GB download limit – which blows all other data card tariffs out of the water. Add to this the 12 months free T-Mobile hotspot access and you’ve got a bargain of epic proportions.
Plus, if you’ve bought a Web “n” Walk card recently and are worried that you should have waited for the HSDPA launch in August, don’t. The current hardware is actually HSDPA ready, so as soon as T-Mobile switches the service on, you’ll be able to enjoy the faster speeds at no extra cost.
As a big fan of existing 3G data cards I was never in any doubt that HSDPA would be impressive, and I wasn’t disappointed. Using the Web “n” Walk card on T-Mobile’s HSDPA network really is like using your ADSL connection at home or in the office – it really is THAT fast.
But even the best technology can fall flat on its face if the pricing is wrong, so it’s good to see that T-Mobile hasn’t just met my expectations in this area, but actually surpassed them by a wide margin. At £20 per month for pretty much unlimited data, a free card AND 12 months free hotspot access, the Web “n” Walk card looks like it could be the bargain of the year!
”’Update:”’ Since publishing this review I have discovered that T-Mobile does not allow either VoIP or Instand Messaging activity on its Web “n” Walk tariff. While I can accept T-Mobile not wanting masses of VoIP data to flood cells, I see no reason to stop IM usage. T-Mobile says that it will have future tariffs that will allow IM usage, but for now I have been forced to adjust the scores and award for the Web “n” Walk card.
”’Note:”’ Unfortunately the Web “n” Walk card doesn’t currenly work on Mac OS, but will aparently work on the Windows partition if you’re using BootCamp.
”’Note 2:”’ An eagle eyed reader has informed me that the Web “n” Walk card will work with a Mac running Mac OS if you use the launch2net software from Nova Media. It costs about 80 Euros but does allow Mac users to enjoy HSDPA goodness, although the Wi-Fi part of the card still doesn’t work. Thanks for the info Glenn.
Score in detail
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