Review: HSDPA T-Mobile Web'n'Walk card

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The Propaganda

Everyone’s going on about HSDPA. I hear about it in the queue for the bus, whilst at the bank, shopping for groceries.. Whilst that might not be strictly speaking true, there has been a race on to get the first HSDPA service up and running and some days it does feel as if no one will shut up about it. T-Mobile were highlighted early on as dark horses in the race, by the ever observant Tech Digest, and they have presented us here with their Web’n’Walk card that comes with unlimited usage, as well as a year’s free access to the T-Mobile hotspots. The network is said to cover 65% of the population and is supposed to deliver at least 1 Mbit per second. This is the first step in their HSDPA plan (today has also seen the continuation of this with the launch of the MDA Vario II).

The Good

The first point of note for T-Mobile is that they’re not asking you to buy any more equipment. To save any self-hatred by customers who couldn’t wait for the HSDPA roll-out, all Web n Walk cards bought from the launch in May have HSDPA functionality built in.  They’re also not asking for megabucks. The service has launched with a tariff that offers a free data card when you sign up for 18 months, and a monthly cost of £17. In this, they give you ‘unlimited data’ (not true – the small print restricts you to 2 MB) as well as a year’s free access to T-Mobile hotspots. And as anyone who has walked around Soho recently will testify, there are a lot of T-Mobile hotspots, since they’re firmly in bed with Starbucks, among others.

Setting it up is easy to do, as the instructions guide you through the installation process. Once installed, you get the desktop Communication Centre, as well as a Hotspot Locator. The Communication Centre is a small screen that can sit in the corner of your browser, measuring signal strength as well as letting you know whether you’re connected to GPRS, UMTS or WiFi. From here, you can also send text messages.

T-Mobile coverage extends across the UK,compared to something like Vodafone which is mostly restricted to within the M25. It’s currently citing 65%, although this figure is set to rise. When you are in coverage, it’s a great feeling to see web pages appear almost as fast as they would if you were sitting in your office. Whether it will actually result in people running their business from the nearest pub/park/train remains to be seen, but it certainly makes mobile working more productive.

The Bad

65% of the population is telling – it’s the population of the UK, not the landmass. This means that although coverage isn’t restricted to within the M25, it is clumped around metropolitan areas. I had difficulty trying to get a decent signal strength on the train from Waterloo to the very suburban Guildford, which isn’t in line with the predictions made by T-Mobile.

There are also certain restrictions on the card. As previously mentioned, the ‘fair usage’ limit is 2 MB per month which, if you’re going to be downloading a lot of graphics or large presentations, you could easily hit. Fair usage is always quite an odd concept, and it’s actually quite rare for networks to pursue an ‘unfair’ user so this may not be a problem. You’re also prevented from using VoiP which will annoy many customers. HSDPA combined with VoiP has been dubbed by many as a nail in the mobile networks coffin, which may explain T-Mobile’s stance on it. They’ve also prevented you from accessing any IM programmes.

In our opinion

I’m really surprised at the cost of the card. Under £20 a month really does make it accessible for those that pay their own bills rather than the money being provided by the company – it certainly compares favourably to Vodafone’s HSDPA card. Once you’re online, the speeds are impressive, and the ability to connect to a T-Mobile hotspot is also a bonus. However, you’ll want to assess just when you want to use the card – will it be whilst you’re waiting in the middle of town, or will it be on the commute. If it’s the latter, it’s worth finding out what coverage you’ll receive on your journey, because you could be disappointed.

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