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3 USB dongleBack on the 24th I mentioned an excellent offer on 3 mobile broadband. Well, I ordered the broadband “dongle” on the 22nd and it turned up on the 30th.

The packaging is small but contains everything you might need, including the USB device (which can also house a micro SD card so that you can it for storage as well) and SIM card. The instructions come in a number of small leaflets and individual sheets – probably to save money as some are more general than others (often referring to the “phone” that you’ve just purchased) – and aren’t a great amount of use, containing little technical information on getting set up. However, that turned out to be not a bad thing as the first thing that happened when I did get connected was that the software was updated and looked completely different to the screenshots in the manual!

So, you put the SIM card into the USB device and then plug it in. All software is on the USB key and it installs automatically – it apparently works for Mac as well as PC, but no Linux mentioned. It was a bit flaky at first, as to when it worked and in which USB port, but appears to have settled down now.

Anyway, it did connect and I was instantly onto the internet. That in itself was weird though as, according to the manual and the 3 website, I had no credit. I rang 3 to enquire about this and no matter how many ways I tried to ask the question, they didn’t seem to understand. You see, if you use any bandwidth above what you’ve paid then you’re charged a rather mighty £1 per MB. I’d already used about 7MB, thanks mainly to the software update that it did. As soon as I topped up was I suddenly going to be down £7?

I registered on their site and was told I’d be informed of my password – it turns out that this is sent as an SMS which you view via the installed software. From here I registered a card – for some reason this takes 7 days before it can be used again, but they are happy to take out an initial £10 for topping up. If you need to top up in the meantime, you have to get a voucher from a shop. I now have £10. And a little more. I’m guessing that additional is some free credit that was allowing me to access the internet before. Shame the manual nor 3 themselves were aware of this.

Anyway, they say not to use the supplied software to track your data usage as it’s not 100% accurate. Instead you should use their website. Fine. Except reading various user comments on the internet, it would appear that this is only updated occasionally. Not only that, but right now, after quite a bit of use, my data usage tells me that I’ve not used anything above my top-up allowance. Which is good to know, but that’s all it says. Am I close? Have I got loads left? I have no idea. It would appear that the first thing I’ll know is when I cross the limit and start being charged as some ungodly amount. Hmmm. And to top it all off, it shows my current balance as “won’t expire”. Either that’s a change in policy, or it’s wrong. I’ve emailed 3 to ask about these two “issues” and I’ll report back any results.

Web access speed appears pretty good, although I’ve only been using it in low signal areas so I think an actual speed test result wouldn’t reflect appropriately.

The USB dongle also has a slot for Micro SD cards, allowing you to store on the device as well, although this is limited to 2GB. You are also supplied with a USB extension lead, as the dongle is rather wide and may block nearby USB ports otherwise.

It’s such a shame that the instructions, and indeed 3’s support, left a lot to be desired because, for the price, this is well worth having, if only for the occasional “emergency”. Having said, the inability to accurately track your current usage is a bit of a problem too.

One quick tip – I’ve created an extra profile on my Netbook, which doesn’t launch software that will instantly connect and use the internet (mail notifiers, instant messengers, etc). I then use this when using the mobile broadband, and this reduces the amount of bandwidth consumed.