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It not a joke!!! It is the truth!!!

Giving people what they want: violence and sloppy eating

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mini me + poo
A couple of Christmases ago, I was in Nottingham at somewhere with, gasp, no internet. So wandering around the centre, I went into a 3 shop heavily promoting their mobile internet.

The price per month was a bit high, but the rest of the conversation went something like: "So it's £30 a month and the modem is...?" "£99." "No thanks."

Since then, the various networks have introduced more reasonably priced PAYG tariffs and the price of the modems has fallen greatly.

So last weekend, I was in Bournemouth at somewhere with, gasp etc. OK, it had a wi-fi network, but it expected a pile of money to use it. Fortunately, there was a handy Macdonalds to sit outside and use their free wi-fi service. (If anyone from there is reading, feel free to use this new ad slogan: "Macdonalds - now more than just a handy toilet". Much less annoying than the current one.)

But walking back to the hotel up 'mobile network shop hill' revealed that the O2 modem is down to about £13 if you look around. Hmmm.

Fortunately, I resisted temptation because their coverage is frankly embarrassing (Ofcom PDF). They also had to be threatened with a c£40m fine to extend their coverage to the 80% of the population that was a condition of getting a 3G licence.

But yesterday, thinking about where I will be at various times this summer, I did fall for a T-Mobile PAYG stick. £24, and a sensible 'fair use' limit (3 gig a month, even if you only use it for a day that month - some networks have a low 'per day' limit - and no financial penalty for going over it). Interestingly, apart from getting a free modem, there seems to be no advantage to going for a £15 / month 18 month contract rather than paying a max of £15 for a month's PAYG.

However there are some oddities that perhaps I should have (been able to) find out prior to spending the money.

Challenge: find the tariff details on t-mobile.co.uk - monthly plans, yes, PAYG, nope. The current rates are supposed to be different (cheaper) from the ones printed in the package, but it would be nice to have confirmation of this and know where to look when they change again.

The coverage is still very patchy. Annoyingly, there doesn't seem to be any map, never mind a useful one. Instead there's a postcode lottery page: stick a postcode in and it tells you 'The computer says "no"'.

OK, perhaps expecting something on the north Somerset coast was optimistic, but nothing in central Bristol?!? (I've tried three postcodes, including Bristol Temple Meads station.)

And while it's recognised with no problems by Ubuntu, you need the Windows client to send the free text that is necessary to get the cheaper (per day) week's or month's usage. Oh well, perhaps it will run under Wine or I can use another PC...

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Whereabouts on the N Somerset coast are you?

Nowhere near at the moment :)

We're near Minehead for a few days in late July, then in Bristol until the 1st/2nd August weekend.

Edited at 2009-07-10 11:10 am (UTC)

Embarrassingly I don't actually understand how this stuff works even at all. Is this the same sort of deal where some places give you a 'free' netbook? How do you get online. I feel I need to catch up...

You have a (typically) USB stick modem which - when there is a signal - accesses the provider's 3G mobile phone network. It should appear as a network connection on the PC/Mac/whatever.

If you've sold your soul bought a contract, they'll give you the modem, but you're then tied to them whatever happens. On PAYG you need to buy credit in exactly the same way as you would for a phone: registering a card with them, using vouchers, or a 'top up card'.

On T-Mobile PAYG, it costs £2 for every day you use it, but you can also send - officially only via a PC - a free text to their service and pay £7.50 for access for the next seven days or £15 for thirty days.

It's an indication as to how much profit there is in some of the contracts that, yes, this is what you can get a 'free' netbook with. That typically involves paying £30+ a month for two years = min £720 vs £200 for a netbook, £25 for the modem and typically max £15 a month for PAYG = £225 to £585 tops. I don't see the 'per month' cost of PAYG rising and it may well fall further.

Unless you are travelling in an area that has coverage all the time, you will probably be better off on a PAYG tariff. But before splashing any money, check that network coverage. Some networks do bits of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness, and that's Scotland for them.

The other gotcha, which I didn't mention because I already knew it, is that the advertised 'up to 3.6M bits/s' (or for some 7.2M bits/s) speeds are completely unrealistic rubbish. In practice, it's usually no faster (and often slower) than a 512k link and, if you're somewhere popular, contention makes things much worse.

What does 'appear as a network connection' mean?
If I have a laptop, and I buy one of these £24 T-mobile sticks and say £10 credit on it, and plug it in, and open up my browser and type a web address and press enter, will it work?

Also how much webbrowsing would 3 gig represent? Versus how much Iplayer TV show downloading?

Back when I had a 512k link most sites were all text and there was little contention - nowadays, how long might it take to download say a 1 hour TV show with your 'up to 3.6Mb' modem?

[planning to buy a netbook shortly...]

Depending on the OS, you will probably need to press some sort of 'connect via this' button somewhere.

get_iplayer - a highly recommended way to download stuff by pretending to be a iPhone - reckons a 30 minute programme is typically 113M byte in the low quality Quicktime iPhone feed up to 700M in HD with various other quality options in the middle.

Apart from that, it's "how long is a piece of string?" time. It helps to have Firefox running AdBlock Plus and Flashblock cutting out the crap, but speeds are highly variable. 113M bytes would be, ooh, about half an hour at 50k bytes (i.e. about 512k bits) a second?

I've got it for email, LJ and YourTurnMyTurn etc rather than trying to watch videos.

Thinking about the implications of the speed: I wouldn't use it for streaming video - there is likely to be too much stuttering as it's being downloaded in roughly real time.

Another reason to be grateful for get_iplayer, get_flash_video (YouTube et al downloader) etc

Iplayer doesn't do subtitles when streamed anyway, so I have to download. I figured streamed video would be cack, it's bad enough at home.

So I could, say, surf your average LJ-type website pretty much constantly, and download and then watch an hour of video a week, and the restrictions are more likely to be waiting to download at the same rate as watching, and the battery life of the laptop, than the Mb limit?

How long is the battery life of your Eee 901 in real-world use?

Five to six hours - it's done a 'whole day' meeting with no problems. Doing lots of internet reduces that somewhat.

If you don't need that, then when I got one, the 900 was the one to go for. The release of the 901 meant its price fell drastically and the battery life is the only real difference.

So, on Ubuntu on this netbook (Eee 901) the network manager applet is currently telling me it's not connected to a wired network (true) and I can pick between one mobile broadband network (T-Mobile via the stick) and three wireless networks (the one here plus two neighbours'). Switching between them is a matter of pressing a 'radio button' in its dialogue.

In a minute, I will unplug the stick, because it draws quite a bit of current = lower battery life, and I'm doing this via the home network on the grounds it's free and I know its password :)

Sounds like PAYG might be worth a look, since I already have a netbook. Thanks.

I'd suggest borrowing someone else's stick before going with any particular network. This is why I didn't consider 3, despite their theoretically wide coverage. Your experience may vary.

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