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Three’s Mobile Broadband – Huawei E367 Dongle

12/06/2011

It was at a recent bloggers gathering at Brando, Three’s social media agent, that I was handed one of Three’s new Premium Mobile Broadband dongles to evaluate. I had read about the device when it first arrived on the scene earlier this year. But this was my first opportunity to actually lay hands on one and give it a bit of a workout. So, lets get started.

The Technology

“Huawei Mobile Broadband E367 HSPA+ USB Rotator” it says on the side of Three’s new Mobile Broadband Dongle. Available since 7th April 2011, the new dongle marks Three’s commitment to the latest* Evolved High Speed Packet Access (HSPA), generally known as HSPA+. If you are quite into the technology of HSPA then you may enjoy reading what Wikipedia has to say on the matter; Evolved_HSPA

Technically, HSPA+ promises speeds of up to 84Mbps downlink and 22Mbps uplink. But it is entirely up to the mobile network operator how much they actually deliver, and in Three’s case the maximum available speeds delivered by their network are up to 40% faster than the standard dongle’s 7.2Mbps maximum. It may well be that Three will crank up the deliverable speed as they continue to compete with their rivals in the UK. Certainly, the HSPA+ technology has a very high speed ceiling over which it is currently offered, so a lot of growth potential.

NB: * – HSPA+ has been around commercially since 2009.

The Real Speeds

Using a standard HSPA device (dongle or smartphone) I can obtain speeds of 5.1Mbps downlink and 1.5Mbps uplink. From precisely the same physical location, using the new E367 dongle I was able to realise speeds of 9.72Mbps downlink and 1.59Mbps uplink, witness the speedtest.net result image to the left.  That is considerably more than a 40% improvement on the downlink. There are many factors involved, not the least being the device’s own technology and performance, time of day etcetera. But clearly, the speed improvement of the E367 is completely apparent.

This speed was not difficult to attain at several other times of day, indicating that the technology actually does what it says on the packet.

Setting Up

Inside the box there is the E367, a short USB cable and two folded pamphlets entitled “Safety Information” and “Set-up Guide”. That is all.

Taking it out of the box, the first thing you notice is that this USB dongle does not have a USB plug. Well, it does really, but it is tucked away at the base and requires folding out, at which point is it ready to be plugged in.

The installation files are embedded on the device for Windows XP / Vista / 7 and Mac OS X 10.4 / 10.5 and 10.6.  Plugging in the dongle results in the appropriate installer being run automatically, although it does take a while, so do resist the temptation to try and fiddle with the process. It will begin all by itself.

I use a Macbook Pro running OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard and the install for that system was very typical Mac. It did all of the work by itself, and within a few minutes the “Three Connect” applet appeared on the screen. From here you can launch the connection to the HSPA+ network.

I have not tried the installation on Windows but would anticipate it being equally polished and straightforward. Huawei’s software gets better with each iteration.

In Use

In use this is like any other mobile broadband dongle that you may have used before. You need to run up the Connect applet from which you may command the dongle to connect to Three’s network. This is a very speedy process, it takes mere seconds for the connection to establish and for the dongle to identify that it is on an HSPA-capable network. From here on in you are able to use your system to do what you set out to.

The network and dongle deliver a very responsive experience. Actions requiring new pages or downloads all happen very quickly and without any lag. Streaming video from the likes of BBC iPlayer or YouTube are uninterrupted, even HD.

I am no game player but that 53ms ping time, see the speedtest above, is well within tolerance for on-line multiplayer games. You can contrast that with ping times from, say Vodafone, that I have experienced that are 190ms ranging to a typical average of 300ms and a worst seen of 2316ms.

If you are running any latency-sensitive applications such as Voice, Videocalling, MMRPGs, then ping times are the indicator of whether or not you will have a successful experience. The lower the number the better.

Certainly, Three’s ping times mirror those of my Sky ADSL service that operates at just under 6Mbps.

Conclusion

This “premium” dongle will cost you a bit more than the standard offerings from Three. Not a great deal more, mind you, but these are tricky financial times and so people are generally more cost conscious.

That said, the performance difference is very worth having, particularly as this is the way forward and if you are taking a new dongle on a long term contract it does make sense to buy in at the top end if you can afford to. The data plans are identical to standard with matching allowances.

The E367 is also available on Three’s PAYG tariff, again with sensible data allowances being offered for the money paid.

I like the way that the E367 mounts to a laptop, standing upright or at an angle is infinitely preferable to sticking out sideways stiffly as the traditional dongle does. It also reduces the chances of the dongle and/or laptop being damaged through the dongle being knocked in use.

The E367 is an entirely practical and very efficient mobile broadband dongle. I do think that I will have one in my armoury soon after Three reclaim this one from me.

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From → Devices, Mobile

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