Vodafone 3G Broadband HSDPA PC card review

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After several years of the networks promising HDSPA (High Speed Data Packet Access or 3.5G as it is becoming known) products Vodafone has finally won the race to be first to deliver a device to market. Its new 3G Broadband card for PCs, which takes advantage of the new service’s download maximum speeds of 1.8Mbps and uploads of 384kbps, went on sale last week.

Voda has pegged the price at between £49-99 depending on which tariff the user opts for, which is similar to the cost of its previous 3G data card. It is also offering a series of tariffs including a top-end one with a one gig cap for £45 per month. After you go beyond one gig a fair usage policy kicks in – which may mean extra costs or even suspension of the account. Here’s hoping that Voda is generous though as given the potential of the card it could be very easy to reach one gig of data.

Vodafone hasn’t messed too much with the card and its interface though. Our sample, made by Belgian company Option, was very easy to install and features a PC interface that’s virtually identical to previous 3G cards.
The key difference is obviously when users get online and start downloading.
There is a caveat though in that so far HSDPA is only available within the M25 and a few other large conurbations like Birmingham and Glasgow. Voda hopes to roll it out across the UK by the end of 2007.

Anyhow in north London I got a good-ish HSDPA signal, found a huge file – one of Sky’s HD trailers which is a whopping 60MB – and started downloading. Seven minutes later, after consistent data rates of well above 1.0Mbps, the file was sitting on my hard drive. The HSDPA network achieved similar speeds when grabbing emails with large attachments too.
I tried some video streaming from sites like the BBC and MTV and noted that the video tended to be a lot more stable than it did when using the original Vodafone 3G card.
Outside of the HSDPA network the card defaults to 3G and then GPRS.

Overall then the HSDPA card works well. It does feel though like a product without a real killer application. Sure it’ll speed up the download of large files, but that really is its only key benefit at the moment.
For Vodafone 3G card owners, especially those who spend a lot of time in cities, it is a no brainer of an upgrade.
Anyhow Vodafone, and all the other networks for that matter, can we have those HSDPA handset now please?

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