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Offering wireless access to the Internet via Vodafone's high-speed 3G network, the Mobile Connect HSDPA USB Modem is a nifty device. It connects via USB, so it offers a flexible alternative for users of desktop PCs and notebooks, as many new machines don't have PCMCIA card slots. Unfortunately, limited High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) network coverage means users won't be able to take full advantage of higher speeds in every area.
According to Vodafone, the USB Modem provides data download speeds of up to 3.6 Mbps and upload speeds of up to 384Kbps. However, only limited parts of the Vodafone HSDPA network are running at a rate of 3.6Mbps and Vodafone hasn't announced exactly where these spots are. Most of the time, users will only be able to achieve the standard HSDPA rate of 1.8Mbps.
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The Mobile Connect service supports connectivity in HSDPA, 3G and GPRS coverage areas. If the HSDPA signal strength isn't strong enough, the service falls back to standard 3G (a maximum speed of 384Kbps). If no HSDPA or 3G signal can be received, then the modem will revert down to standard GSM (60Kbps maximum), which is barely useable, even for basic web browsing.
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During testing, the modem performed well in our offices (based in St Leonards, Sydney) receiving a standard HSDPA signal. However, it struggled in the western suburbs of Sydney, only managing to connect via a low, regular 3G signal. For consistency we performed a number of tests, ranging from small amounts of data, like emails and basic Web browsing, to streaming services, and finally to basic downloading of files (ranging from 1MB to 4MB in size).
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The USB modem has no problem with basic web browsing, loading pages swiftly and without much delay. We also checked our email successfully, with a stable connection and fairly consistent speeds in our offices. If you are in a HSDPA or 3G coverage area, streaming media from such websites as You Tube and Pandora isn't a problem, but this is virtually impossible if the coverage drops down to GSM. We struggled with streaming in western Sydney, as we could only receive standard 3G coverage.
Downloading small files while in a standard HSDPA coverage area, we were able to achieve speeds of up to 97KB/s, but most often fluctuated between 78KB/s and 88KB/s. The USB Modem is therefore ideal for the business user, since they will have reliable access to email and web browsing and won't be interested in streaming media or the downloading of files.
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The Vodafone Mobile Connect software included in the package scores points for ease of use and setup. It is compatible with both Windows and Mac OS's, and took less than a couple of minutes to install on our notebook. After a restart, we were up and running. A convenient dashboard menu uses tabs for connect, SMS, MMS email, Web and support, and users can even check their usage patterns for both current and previous months.
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Three plans are offered for the USB Modem, ranging from the entry level $29.95 a month for 100MB of data to the highest $99.95 for 1GB of data. All plans charge an additional 30 cents per megabyte for any additional usage, while users can also change between data bundles from month to month, without penalty and without any contract required.