04.What to look for
Counting the cost
As with mobile phone plans, when purchasing a mobile broadband solution with data plan it pays to check the conditions of the plan very carefully before purchase, as the initial cost doesn’t tell the full story.
And as with mobile phone plans, it can still be a bit of a minefield. Consider the following when shopping for a plan: How much data do you get with the initial purchase and how long do you have to use it? How much are top-ups for prepaid plans? Usually these are on a sliding scale that costs you less per megabyte (or gigabyte) the more you commit to.
If you go on a monthly plan, what about excess charges? If you go over your monthly data allocation is the plan shaped (which doesn’t charge you extra but limits your speed till the end of that month) or do you encounter excess charges (usually costed per MB). If the plan has excess charges you’ll continue to get your full speed, but the costs can very quickly mount up. That’s where it’s important to have easy-to-use software for monitoring your data usage.
As with mobile phones, does your plan charge extra for mobile roaming? Even if you have plenty of data allocation in reserve, you can find yourself forking out extra if you’ve gone out of range of your provider and roamed (automatically “borrowed” a connection from another network). This is designed to ensure that your mobile modem stays connected to a network, but even local data roaming charges can be considerable, while international data roaming can be far more expensive.
If you only need mobile broadband on your laptop occasionally, you might not need to buy a separate mobile broadband device at all if you have a smartphone with a decent data plan that you can “tether” to your laptop. Tethering lets you use your smartphone’s data access plan via your laptop, either by direct cable connection or over Bluetooth. Check whether your smartphone can use tethering and whether your phone plan supports it. Note that depending on the provider, it may be an extra-cost option.
None of the products on test specifically come with Linux support, but we decided to test them anyway — often, driver support is available, but it won’t be printed on the product tin!
For the products on test, only the Optus, Virgin and Telstra products worked fine out of the box, allowing our Ubuntu laptop to connect to the internet.
EDGE Enhanced Data GSM Evolution. EDGE is a faster version of GSM wireless service. EDGE enables data to be delivered at rates up to 384 Kbps. The standard is based on the GSM standard and uses TDMA (Time Division Multiple Access) multiplexing technology.
GPRS General Packet Radio Service, a standard for wireless at speeds up to 115 kilobits per second, compared with current GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) systems’ 9.6 kilobits.
GSM Short for Global System for Mobile Communications, one of the leading digital cellular systems. GSM uses narrowband TDMA, which allows eight simultaneous calls on the same radio frequency.
Mobile broadband Abbreviated as HSPA (High Speed Packet Access), includes two popular standards; HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access) and HSUPA (High Speed Uplink Packet Access).
SIM Subscriber Identity Module, identifies the user to the phone network and stores personal settings.