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Reg Hardware Mobile Broadband Week Two years ago, I plugged a selection of 3G dongles into my laptop at various locations to see what the coverage and speed offered by the major mobile networks was like. You can see the results here, but with HSPA being introduced at ever higher upload and download speeds, it's time to …

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Three price increases

Looks like Three have hiked their prices - last year I got a pay monthly sim-only deal from them that offers 2GB/month for £5 - that's decent value and suits me to the ground. Doesn't seem to be available now.

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Re: Three price increases

yeah, I had an old "contract" that I have kept on with 3. That was £10 a month for 2gb but I added "unlimited" mobile for another £5. Havent been kicked off them in the past year and I pull at least 3-4gb a month and they allow tethering. Tunein radio is on constantly (filtered wifi at work) and i'm usually watching iplayer and tvcatchup on the phone when i'm away. HSDPA+ gets me at least 2mb whereever I go. Lancaster gets me close to 8mb now, dumfries is about 3. The ping is also good, about 80 although I havent tried gaming on it yet. I might have a go playing diablo 3 to see how reliable the connection is.

3 also seem to cell roam nicely up and down the motorway network. On the run from dumfries to lancaster I only lose connection close to j37 - my orange phone also lost here too.

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Re: Three price increases

2 hours and 4 motorways later, 3 gave me streaming media the whole way!

I have to say Three are the only network with a truly unlimited data plan AND fast coverage anywhere I need to use it...

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I get 3Gb for £5 a month.. was 1GB but they upped it, and as it's a Sim Zero deal that's all I pay (I rarely if ever use voice). Alas, you can't get that offer from them any more - or anything close from anyone else.

I chose three originally by doing a spotify test. Put spotify on (low quality, about 64kbps, easily achievable) , then drive around. A couple of years back when I did it *only* three could sustain even that speed. Nowadays Three happily copes with spotify on 'ultra' quality driving up and down the country.. I keep meaning to repeat my test with the others - I've no doubt they've improved (Still no O2 signal here in south manchester though, so that's O2 and giffgaff out of the running already).

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Meh

Unlimited restricted?

I seem to understand that if you grab more then your quota in 24 hours than some suppliers then you'll be down to a crawl for data rates, which for me would be a killer, all it needs is a couple of updates and you could be goosed for a while! Want to update from Ubuntu 11.10 to 12.04? Make sure it's topped up and leave it overnight - you hope.

Mobile Broadband is for me the only access, it's faster than the wired version here simply because there's not enough of a customer base for them to do anything about it, and of course it's nice to not pay a fortune when using it out and about.

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Re: Unlimited restricted?

For big changes you can trickle download - set a rate limit. Ive not looked to see if there are "amnesty times" for downloading.

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come to warrington

them speeds seem very bad for O2 on your results, around here norm more then 2-5mb/s is normal

and giffgaff was surprised to see them listed here (just be careful not to go over the Hidden 750MB day data Ban cap)

Three is the worst around here (must be a lot of users) to the point where keeping the connection is an issue (i get a lot of Phantom signal takes the phone about 1-2 mins to work out its no longer connected and forces an reconnect) and thats before you get to spotty indoor coverage (there coverage maps are bit of an lie you should goto the t-mobile coverage map if you want to see three coverage as most of the masts are an 5050 three/t-mobile mast)

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O2 is not very good.

The free hotspot thing is crap, it often fails to connect, the coverage is crap, I lose data signal almost the instant I cross the ring road round Edinburgh, and for the majority of Scotland - nada, zip, zero, whilst my friends on Voda/Orange keep going just fine. Hell, on a 15 minute walk to work through the center of Edinburgh I lose my data signal on my phone about 3 times.

And yet with their mobile data coverage being utterly crap, they still waste money on willy waving but hopefully (for them) headline grabbing 4G experiments that benefit about 25 people.

If the rest of my family weren't on their network, I wouldn't be either.

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WTF?

Orange is crap

Having complained about Orange many times over the years I will do the same again. Yes you get signal almost anywhere you go but its like having 56k dialup 75% of the time. Not my idea of mobile "broadband". I rang to complain is wasn't even getting 1% of the service I was paying for after attempting to download information. I was basically told to go screw myself. Hate orange and will leave the moment the contract is up as their customer service is also appalling.

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Re: Orange is crap

Yeah, when I had orange it would connect nicely to speedtest but the throughput elsewhere just wouldnt happen. I also used to get a lot of null data connections, sure I had sync but nothing left orange servers (orange email would load instantly but not my exchage mail or personal mail).

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Re: Orange is crap

Orange customer service used to be excellent, but has gone massively downhill over the last couple of years. When my contract ends, Gifgaf here I come!

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Re: Orange is crap

Just had exactly the same experience. Their customer service treats you like s**t on their shoe. I've just managed to escape and will never be going back! Good luck!

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Coverage Maps

These coverage maps provided by the companies are a joke, Vodaphone tells me that I should get a strong 3G signal indoors. The reality is, I am lucky to get a weak 3G signal outside and any signal at all indoors.

Vodafone have even acknowledged this and provided one of their femto cells for free. That would be great except our broadband is so slow, if anyone is browsing the net, there isn't enough capacity for phone calls.

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Holmes

femto cells for free. : Coverage Maps

Yes, well, they should pay YOU to use a Femto cell. You are paying for the traffic on your Broadband!

Mobile Operators will LOVE 3G and LTE (so called 4G) Femto cells as it gives them more income, more network capacity and more coverage.

Now if the "real" ISPs would only improve the "real" Broadband they could supply even more of them.

Ironic that Mobile Internet is set to really benefit from any major Fibre roll out to cabinet or home as it makes their mast backhaul cheaper and simpler and makes Femto cell deployment in Malls, Offices and Homes much more viable. Also reduce the number of "fixed" users on Mobile making performance up to x5 better for people on the move.

Mobile isn't Broadband and never will be. It's for "on the go" Internet use. "Mobile" use!

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Giffgaff

Of the handful of people i know who have tried giffgaff for data or sim-only phone deal, they have all reported massive problems with the network - and all bailed out and went elsewhere within a few weeks of signing up. Problems with signal, problems with speed, problems with porting numbers, the list goes on and on.

It might be worth noting that you get what you pay for really. There is a reason why they are half the price of O2 and running on the same network. And its not just because they are supported only by a forum run by helpful giffgaff users, who will not allow a bad word to be said and tend to shoot down complaints, or ignore you entirely.

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FAIL

Re: Giffgaff

I tried Giffgaff whilst moving house - waste of £10. Voadafone was better not by much though

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Re: Giffgaff

According to my workmates who are both on giff gaff (im on 3) they say its ok - south scotland.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Giffgaff

Not had any problems in Aberdeen; ignoring the mass outage.

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Re: Giffgaff

I have an O2 and a GiffGaff on payg and found GiffGaff to be s god as the O2 for signal etc and when you factor in the cheaperness over there plans I cant say I'll complain. Though in the SE London area.

Have a three mobile data stick though - nice speeds and £15 a month for 15gb on a contract that has passed it's ocntracted period and now a rolling month contract per say work well for me. Only grip is that I have noticed that I will get signal drops effecting my connection on three when the sun goes down, odd yes, maybe quirk of local basestations or some weird quirk. But it happens.

But yeah GiffGaff fine, if it works on o2 it works on giffgaff so if you have signal problems with them then dont even think about o2 as you will get verbaitum signals.

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Re: Giffgaff

Swapped from Orange to GiffGaff last year 2 outages that i barely noticed were the only issues i have found. the signal from O2 in all my locations that i have used data is many times better than Orange was, loosing 300mins on my phone contract but gaining unlimited texts and data and dropping my costs by £30 is a no brainier, and i have the option if i ever need to drop back to PAYG for calls but grab a data plan and use my phone legitimately as a wifi hotspot is priceless.

The only fly in the ointment is that if you run out of mins or want to change goody bags you have to wait until the full month is up.

I find my self using mobile internet a lot ore now than i used to on my orange contract when I had 1 GB surprisingly i am still using less than 500MB on average (some months much higher some much less the freedom to not be tied to the same usage month in month out is very liberating.

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Vodafone?

Really? In central London you can get whopping 1Mbs if you're really lucky. They keep texting me telling me I'm not using all of my monthly data allowance, which I think is just them rubbing my face in the fact that I can never get any bloody reception.

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All you can eat on 3?

Did the article deliberately miss the ongoing PAYG £15/month top-up option from 3 that includes all you can eat data? I would have thought this would be one of the key selling points of 3.

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Re: All you can eat on 3?

This is a phone plan, you can't use 3 phone sims in dongles you just get a message to say it doesn't work like that and you need to put it in a phone. However there is no problem with tethering so for mobile broadband that seems like a decent option.

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Three network

I was surprised you recommended Three, I used it for four months on my last contract which took me up and down the country. In London and Manchester I cannot fault it, but it seemed almost everywhere else I went I struggled with a poor signal and dropped calls because of it.

I've moved to Vodafone for my new contract (which again, up and down the country) and so far I haven't seen any problems apart from a call dropped on my way to Inverness, but I think I can forgive that.

I would try and include a review from area's outside of the big cities as well, as not everyone lives in London and Manchester.

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Re: Three network

I switched from O2 to 3 when I'm in the UK _because_ of coverage, namely, O2's 3G coverage was pants. I could get signal almost anywhere, but it was often 2G.

Haven't tried Vodafone, when I was comparison shopping it just cost way too much. 3's coverage is a lot better than O2's was.

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Paris Hilton

My experience

O2 biggest load of kack in the world, never again is my stance....

Three, great speeds and coverage but very poor custmer service.

Orange/t Mobile, never have a problem with connection unless in the wilds of Snowdonia, with power boost a few month ago am able to get a good signal at home now also.

Vodafone, got onto a limited test a year ago with all you can eat no limits at all plan for £25 a month, ok sounds a lot but included a motorola xoom 3G so worked out at about £10 a month. Have had great spped with it and streamed Netflix for several hours a day whilst on holiday with no problems.

Simple responce to all the above should be first CHECK THE COVERAGE then look into what you want, then buy the plan.

Oh and why go PAYG data only ? on Three they do a 1 month rolling contract sim only that does 1GB data, 100 minutes and 3000 texts for a tenner, seems better to me than data only.....

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Re: My experience

buy on the internet so you can return it within 7 days if it doesnt work for you. I suppose all networks will be different for people - depends where you are and where the mast is. Also which goats you sacrifice to the network gods.

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Meh

Re: My experience

I see Three give you 14 days to return a phone for a refund. Catch is, it has to be "unused" - so unwrap it carefully and format it before sending it back!

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Coat

Re: My experience

And by phone i meant dongle.Derp.

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WTF?

A review of 3G in Manchester?

That'll be handy then!

Over here in Yorkshire, I get very little 3G from my O2 mobile. From my Three dongle, 5 bars, lightening quick. Same while on holiday in Orkney - surprised I could get anything at all, but Three were great. Only problem was the 3 foot thick walls, so needed a USB extension.

Switching my Blackberries to Three when the O2 contract expires.

Just a shame the Three Wifi thingy is £40.

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Just a shame the Three Wifi thingy is £40.

I didn't begrudge the cost. I have a 15GB for £15.99 contract. Which meant I could buy the cheaper WiFi only Kindle and Tablet. And when I upgraded my O2 phone last month, I went for a tariff with a token 500MB that cost half of the old one.

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FAIL

T Mobile

Have good speed but what they dont mention is that they block any and all voip services over the connection.

I complained about this as its not clear in the t's and c's and they did refund my £20 top up but any operator that blocks services should score 0% in any test.

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Go

Re: T Mobile

A certain VoIP app (starts N, ends Z) works fine over T-Mobile, and you can connect it to your own SIP service.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: T Mobile

As another ex mobile broadband customer of T-mobile i came across the same problem however i found that they didnt block TS2 or TS3 and also had the option to remove the voip blocks for an extra monthly fee of £15 which also gave you a higher fair usage cap

Back then you were lucky to get that info as their customer services used to deny any sort of blocking was going on if asked about it

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Coffee/keyboard

Inaccurate and unscientific

No Mobile operator offers Broadband. It's mobile Internet.

* Latency can exceed BB latency

* Never always on

* virtually impossible to get a static IP

* Some don't even use Public IP

* The only contention control mechanisms are mast getting "full" and "Data cap"

* The quoted mast speeds of HSPA+ is typically only for 1.5% of coverage area and assume only one person per sector is downloading/ fetching email/ loading web page. Speeds can vary between 0.12Mbps and 21Mbps according to distance from mast and number of people using it.

If there are 20 simultaneous streams of data (Skype, web page, email, video, anything) then if EVERY user has perfect signal the speed can't exceed 1/20th of 21Mbps with a perfect system. In practice the overhead of CDMA with multiple codes for different users means 1/40th of peak speed is more likely.

Thus an adhoc test by one user of Mobile is meaningless.

Such tests of cable is representative of what users can get.

Such tests of DSL at known distances of 100m, 250m, 500m, 1km, 1.5km, 2km are representative assuming all are ADSL2+ with enough backhaul on exchange.

If a 3G mast sector is busy you may not even connect. Voice calls cost 100x to 200x less for the operator (comparing revenue vs connectivity costs), so unsurprisingly Data connections will be dropped if the capacity is needed for voice.

Will LTE be better? yes and no. Lightly loaded it's the same in same channel width (5MHz), the higher speed is if there is 20MHz channels (x4 speed). Loaded with 20 simultaneous users connections data speed approaches 1/20th of peak speak for the signal level rather than 1/40th.

You can't break laws of physics. Driven as "hard as possible" the speed MUST go to about 1/4 (with only one user connecting) every time you double distance to mast. So LTE still only does the peak speed for 1 user in 1.5% of mast area.

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Re: Inaccurate and unscientific

In phoneland the only difference between mobile internet and Mobile bb is whether you can tether. It's just product naming.

Deceptive naming but what do you expect from this industry ;-)

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Meh

It does depend on coverage

I always see people say XXX is crap or XXX is fine but it does all depend on where you are or where you use it the most, as always it's usually down to either coverage or too many users.

I use both T-Mobile & Giff Gaff for data & for where I use them they both work well.

T-Mobile works best at home as I get a good strong signal, all the other networks don't have good wall penetration.

Giff Gaff works well at home when used in an unlocked MiFi unit hung up high but I tend to use it more when on the train. On the routes I use I find that the O2 network tends to be better than T-Mobile (I had tried 3 PAYG on the routes as well). Each one has it's own set of 3G blackspots but you get to know where they are.

NB: I had used O2 for the train until recently, switching to Giff Gaff last month to try it out - actually finding it more responsive but that could be down to the APN not being as heavily used as O2's.

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General consensus seems to be...

...All UK mobile internet providers are shite?

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I'm on GiffGaff myself and even the £10 a month I pay is deemed "too much" by GG themselves who say I can come off the GoodyBags and just pay as I go. They are awesome but yes the service can be a bit slow and sometimes lacks a signal...

Anyway the graphs: please consider recolouring them as each network has an established colour which is not just part of their brand but something most of us are very used to e.g. I expect O2 to be blue and Orange to be ...orange and so on :)

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3 For me.

I've got a MiFi on 3 and really have to sing its praises. I'm down in Cornwall, where you possibly wouldn't think coverage would be that great, but it's worked pretty well in most places. In some situations, it's been beating physical broadband connections. It helps that they supply a little docking stand, which I can put in the window to improve coverage.

Mine's been £5/month for 1GB for as long as I can remember.

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Anonymous Coward

Some surprising omissions

There were two things I was quite surprised to see missing from this article:

1. The two EverythingEverywhere networks (orange and T-mobile) offer free seamless 3G roaming between them - so the test sim card could have been using Orange or T-mobile 3G and you wouldn't have actually been able to tell.

2. The fact that there's free roaming means that Everything Everywhere should really be shown as a combined coverage map - it's combined network is now substantially bigger than anyone elses - with about 23,000 3G sites compared to the 13,000 on Three.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Some surprising omissions

Everything Everywhere should really be shown as a combined coverage map - it's combined network is now substantially bigger than anyone elses

And still a complete bag of shit outside of major urban areas as a best case option. Anything other best case is summarized as "no reception at all".

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Some surprising omissions

can't vouch for this - I've got a blackberry with work on Vodafone and most of the places I go out of town it's normally on 2G - certainly the case for large swathes of Somerset and the peak district where I find that my personal phone is pretty much always on 3G from Orange or T-Mobile. In fact, I can't think of any occasions in the last year where my work phone has had coverage and my personal one hasn't - plenty of examples the other way round though.

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Re: Some surprising omissions

Try North Wiltshire. 1bar of 2G outside from O2, nothing whatsoever inside or outside from anyone else.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Some surprising omissions

Hardly proves the point. Plenty of places where you can go and get no signal from o2 and get great signal from everyone else. In fact it was only 02 that ran the risk 2 years ago of losing their 3G license because of a failure to meet coverage obligations - they still have less masts than any other network, and are struggling to make 93% population coverage on 3G when Everything Everywhere is working to deliver 99.5% 3G coverage by the end of next year and EDGE on every 2G site by the end of this year.

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Re: Some surprising omissions

Also 3 share with T-Mobile as well as a part of Mobile Broadband Networks Limited.

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t-mobile pay upfront

t-mobile do a pay upfront option where you get 90 days + a dongle for £30, if you're using it all the time then that's very cheap.

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Anonymous Coward

waste of money, price and allotment far to high for real use in 2012.

"£70.49 gets you 12GB that will last for a year." what a joke, if you can make 12 Gigabytes last even 3 months never mind 12 months then you don't really need mobile internet.

i challenge any UK mobile vendor to give an avid or even casual http://veetle.com/index.php/listing/index/entertainment viewer/broadcaster the ability to watch/stream just 3 hours of nightly viewing/broadcasting per week night and NOT run out of bytes before the weeks out. it will never happen and so they will never get any cash from me.

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FAIL

Re: waste of money, price and allotment far to high for real use in 2012.

Evenings - use wireless.

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Re: waste of money, price and allotment far to high for real use in 2012.

So, you want to use mobile internet for streaming TV? I suggest that you are using the wrong tool for the job. Akin to using a knife to unscrew a plug - it can be done but not ideal, especially if you want to keep your fingers...

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