Web Cube, Broadband in a box
No phone line.
These are the catch lines that greet you when you remove the box from the mail packaging that Three used to courier their latest 3G device, the Web Cube. How many other companies would use the expression “No faff”? I suspected that this would set the trend for the initial experience of the Web Cube, and I wasn’t wrong.
What is it?
The Web Cube is essentially a 3G WiFi router in a box, that does not require a phone line or service contract with an Internet Service Provider. That is it. As simple as it is possible to make things, this really and truly is what it says on the tin, it is indeed “Broadband in a box”. And with a few simple actions to set it up it simply works.
Where can I get one and how much?
Currently Three are “testing the market” and the Web Cube is only available at Leeds, Glasgow and Edinburgh. Three do say that they hope to go nationwide with these “soon”. No doubt the Three website will announce that availability as soon as it occurs. Although you could always nag them on Twitter at @ThreeUK, you never can tell, the power of social media and all that.
Meanwhile, you can review their initial price plans and check for availability in your area by visiting the Three Discover web page. There you can register to be alerted when the Web Cube becomes available in your area.
Inside the typical Three white box with black print is the Web Cube itself, a rather gorgeous looking white plastic with translucent walls. Permanently attached to the Web Cube is a mains cable and UK three-pin plug. There is also a “Getting started guide” and a statutory notice from Huawei, the manufacturer.
Also included was a 3G SIM Ready-to-go Mobile Broadband SIM with 3GB pre-loaded and valid for up to 3 months from first use. I presume that this is how the Web Cube will ultimately be sold on PAYG. There may be contract term options also, but right now none of this is clear.
The intended audience?
The first question that pops into mind with this kind of technology is “Who exactly is this intended to sell to?”. And that is not at all an unreasonable question seeing that Three already have their E586 MiFi (available in black or white). How does another, what is effectively a mains-only, MiFi fit into the scheme of things? Well, Three say on their Blog that the Web Cube is “… designed for the significant chunk of the population, especially renters and students, that have told us they want Wi-Fi at home, just without the phone line and the lengthy contract“.
That all makes sense to me really and if I didn’t have any, or a decent, terrestrial broadband service I would certainly consider one of these. The fact that it is mains powered is ideal over a MiFi to stop people (ie. flatmates) unthinkingly walking off with it. Also, if you don’t want the portability of a MiFi this is a very appropriate device.
In fact, the Web Cube is perfect where a degree of permanence is required. That said, it would be perfect for taking on UK holiday with you – hotel WiFi is usually horrendously expensive, if available at all.
Once out of the box it took me less than three minutes to get the Web Cube up and running. It really is simple.
First unpack the SIM from its carrier. Locate the USIM drawer on the Web Cube and remove it. Slide in the SIM. Pop the drawer back into the Web Cube and then plug the device into the mains. After a few moments the Web Cube will show a series of signal strength bars on its top and you’re good to go.
Control and Administration
The Web Cube is configured and administered by way of a web browser to connect to its own web server using the URL http://192.168.1.1 or http://3.home that will bring up the Admin page. From here you can read any SMS that Three may have sent you, check how much data you have used and can log in to the Admin function where you can change much of the Web Cube’s configuration settings. There is a reset button on the Web Cube should you completely mess things up, that restores it to its factory configuration.
Several people have asked me already, so I’m going to take a moment to point it out; If that blue light becomes annoying you can actually turn it off in the Admin page.
The Getting Started manual and the base of the Web Cube have a sticker that details the SSID (that is the WiFi network’s name) and Password, do not lose these.
Connecting your WiFi device (laptop, tablet, game console) to the Web Cube is exactly like connecting to your home wireless network. Find the name of the Web Cube, select it, enter the WiFi Key and you’re done.
This is the thorny question, as always. How fast does the Web Cube operate at? Well the answer is most reasonably stated that the Web Cube will operate to the same performance as any comparable Three-connected device at your location (see the technical stuff below). And that also depends on a number of factors, not the least being how far you are from the local Three transmitter mast, the building you’re in, the location of the Web Cube in your home etc. The usual stuff to do with radio.
In my case I am rather blessed with being at a fairly good location where it is quite typical to get a speed test result from Speedtest.net of around 6Mbps downlink and 3Mbps uplink to my MiFi and my Galaxy Nexus smartphone. The Web Cube did not disappoint and the very first test I ran delivered 7.73Mbps downlink and 2.06Mbps uplink as you can see in the photograph. Further tests were very comparable.
The technical stuff
If you do not understand any of what is about to follow it really doesn’t matter one bit. This is for those who want/need/like to know this kind of stuff.
The Web Cube is 3G HSPA+ 21 compliant and you can expect speeds of up to 10Mbps in good conditions. Typical speeds, according to Three, would be 2 – 5 Mbps. Up to 5 Wireless devices may be connected at any one time, although very many more can have been registered previously. The Web Cube supports WPS for easy WiFi connection of devices that support WPS. The WiFi range is rated at 30 metres, although that would be clear line of sight, your local conditions may reduce that.