I’ve been on the lookout for a contingency connection for those times that my main Bayan DSL account lets me down (which is oftentimes these days). I do have a 3.5G (HSDPA) enabled mobile phone, which I can use as a modem via BlueTooth, but somehow I have found that option to be cumbersome. First, it causes my mobile phone battery to drain quickly, and so it’s not exactly an elegant solution as I would have to worry about notebook/netbook batteries _and_ mobile phone batteries discharging. Also, it’s a bit expensive when used heavily, at PhP 5 per 15 minutes on the Globe network. Sure that’s cheap enough for on the go browsing, but when you’re using your internet connection the whole day, you end up spending more.
Smart recently announced the availability of an unlimited plan that comes with a USB HSDPA modem for PhP 1,500 per month (about $30 per month) and so I decided to visit a nearby Smart Wireless center to inquire and possibly apply. As I submitted my application form I was told that the modem that came with postpaid plans was still the old white Huawei-supplied one, and this reportedly had many connectivity, compatibility and reliability issues. And I was told approval would take two to three days.
I decided to pick up a prepaid kit for the meantime, to evaluate Smart’s service. I’m primarily a Globe user, and so my 3.5G-enabled mobile phone runs on the Globe network. Best try out Smart’s service this time.
Great things about the prepaid kit are:
* It came with the newer, black USB modem that looks just like a pen drive. This means no dongles to mess up your otherwise wireless set-up.
* It’s cheap at PhP 2,800 net (you have to pay PhP 2,500 for the modem, which includes the SIM card and PhP 100 prepaid load, then you have to purchase a PhP 300 prepaid card).
* It’s prepaid, so there is no need for contracts, lock-ins, or proof of identity/income, as is usual with postpaid plans.
* If you have an existing Smart prepaid or postpaid SIM, you can also use these to connect. Standard rates apply.
So far, so good. It’s been a reliable mobile connection for me, for those times I need to connect while out of the office, or when my home-office connection is simply too slow.
I do get slow speeds when the cell site I’m connected to has non-existent or weak HSDPA signals. With this, it tops at 300+ Kbps. Where there are no 3G signals, it tops at 200+ Kbps (EDGE) or 56 Kbps (GPRS). It sucks, but when it’s your only option you will take it. So far I’m able to access most services and ports I need, including instant messengers, FTP, cPanel and the like, where previously these wireless networks imposed some prohibitions with non-HTTP ports.
The provided software was a breeze to install. The USB modem itself has read-only storage, so the drivers for Windows and OS X (Tiger and Leopard) are included. You may have to download drivers and do some tweaks for Linux, though.
You can always just dialup using your OS’s dialer, but the bundled software gives you more options, like the ability to detect what kind of signal you are currently getting, and the ability to lock connection to certain types only (the connection moves across HSDPA, 3G, GPRS, and EDGE depending on signal strength and availability).
168 Kbps down on EDGE.
1.2 Mbps on HSDPA
The retail kit:
With the SIM card:
With a USB pen drive (to compare and illustrate size):
With the SIM card just peeking out:
Attached to an HP mini note netbook:
The main advantage, as I see it, is that this takes out the necessity to bring an extra phone or to use your extra phone just to connect. The main disadvantage is that you do have to shell out some money for the unit itself. But at PhP 2,800, that’s already a steal. A couple of weeks ago, this was still retailing at PhP 3,800 (PhP 4,500 farther back).
I do hope my unlimited plan gets approved soon. When that time comes I’ll really get to put the system to an abuse test–whether it can take sustained speeds, and whether it can serve as a reliable connectivity option full-time. Of course I cannot share it among my various computers simultaneously, but again my purpose is for backup connectivity that I can also use while mobile.
When I get that plan approved, I would use it instead with this black modem and I would probably sell the white one (along with the prepaid SIM) or keep it as backup.
Updates: From research, I discovered that the black USB dongle sold with this prepaid pack is the LongCheer WM66. I believe that’s a relative newcomer, compared to Huawei and ZTE, which supplies most other dongles out there. Huawei is usually un-lockable, while ZTE dongles are more difficult (if possible at all) to unlock. But at PhP 2,500 for a prepaid kit, these things are cheap already!
Also, I have a Globe Visibility prepaid kit review upcoming!