Saturday, February 25, 2012

The joy of 3g

I recently moved home, and am delighted to say that after 13 years of suffering am overjoyed to at last free myself of the shackles of Eircom (or eirCon as they are better called).  For the last 20 years since Ireland's pretend deregulation started, eircom have not only continued to gouge the public with the most expensive and most backward telecoms in Europe (my former client, who shalll not be named, was horrified to discover that an identical network line costs 10 times more down South than up North - if ever there was a case against reunification, this has to be it).  The worst for techies like myself has been not only the dearth of networked services, and their extreme costs, which as above, run into multiples of identical services in other countries, but also non availability and quite frankly, shite quality of existing services.

Back in my last years in Cork, when I had to have home broadband in order to work on call rotas, I was shackled to eircon for home phone.  In those days, it was not possible to have any kind of broadband service in the area without having a home phone, so I had to fork out 300 euros a year just to have the line.  This was not paid for by my employer so effectively I was out of pocket for something I strictly didn't need.  I think I made 3 calls a month, so each call home cost me something in the region of 8.50 per call.  Yet eircon's glossy ads have the brass neck to suggest that they are the best value and service provider in the country.  It is worth pointing out that Ireland Offline, founded by my former Schlumerberger colleague and now consultant of all things online Damien Mulley, was partially triggered by the horrendous experience of a work colleague, Mike Reboli, who had the pain of trying to get a proper internet service in the Wellington Rd area circa 2002.

Yet in 2007, things were not much better in Wellington Rd.  Despite being merely yards from the exchange, I (or more correctly my then employer) was paying for a 3MB service that rarely went above 2mb.  I alternated between laughter and weeping in late 2009 when they announced next generation broadband, and kindly announced that it would not be in my area for another 13 months - but hey, its coming!  And then there was the downtime - at least 2 major episodes of downtime, both while handling critical business outages - not appreciated.

So when the 3g rollouts started rolling, I decided to try out the service with one of the many "preused" modem sell offs that started happening in 2010, as I was hoping to finally cut my eircon ties.  A friend had really bad experience with Hutchinson 3 in the White Street area so I decided to avoid and bought an O2 modem.  Despite being less than 200 yards from the nearest mast, I simply couldn't get a connection from Wellesley Terrace (behind of Maryborough Hospice).  Well I could, but only 2G.  Disappointing after probably about 12 cumulative happy years of using o2's mobile services.

Interestingly enough, when I revived my use of the dormant modem on my return to Dublin in mid 2010, I noticed that 3g was very poor in a lot of Swords.  Very surprising, as the area I was and am still living in is merely a few hundred yards from the mast on the Main Street.  And same from a client office in Airport Rd, Ballycureen, Cork, where on one entire side of the building 3g was impossible, and it dropped with regularity at 5pm every day on the far side.  I also had problems when staying in my beloved Vienna Woods hotel, where service was also similarly poor (poor from one side, non existent from the other) and also the horribly run down Montenotte Hotel (again very close to the mythical Millitary Hill mast).  It worked however in the Ambassador Hotel, where no doubt the mast was probably virtually shoved up its proverbial virtual ass.

So in search of better things, I've given up on O2, as coverage in the Vicarage is as slow as dial up, and am testing out Meteor and 3.

So far Meteor has come up trumps.  Their mast appears to be somewhere beside the Lord Mayors, unlike most other providers which are on Main St, and speeds on a 7.2mb modem are as good as 4mb plus.  Uploads are generally between 1.5 and 2mb, which is good.  The only hitch I find is that the allowance isn't great - 20 euro a month for 7.5GB isn't a lot for home use, especially if you stream (I've Netflix and emusic accounts, so need a decent allowance). 

PAYG

Meteor
1 Day Pass     7 Day Pass     30 Day Pass
500 MB        2 GB         7.5 GB
€2.99         €7.99         €19.99

Device:
E173 Refurbished:     €9.99
E173 New:     €29
E353 New:     €49
Hotspot:     €69

O2

1 Day pass
3.99 (per day)
500MB

30 day pass
19.99
5GB

Devices
Huawei E173 from €29 to €40 (latter includes 40 euro credit)
O2 Hotshot 0-59 depending on plan
Huawei E323 Free but only available on an 18 month contract

Note: O2 6 month plans are a good budget option

3
2 options are available on PAYG options - you can either buy a standalone device and top up as required or buy a "surf kit" which comes with a time/download allowance limited set of data.
Modems are priced from 29 to 109 (there is sometimes an extra 10 euro for buying instore)

Modems (in order of pricing)
Huawei e1820
Huawei WebCube
Huawei e586 MiFi
Huawei B260a

"Surf kits"
Light    1 months    2gb    €10
Active    3 months    6gb    €50
Pro    6 months    12gb    €70

Its worth pointing out that all 3 "kits" are basically multiples of 1 month of 2gb service, but could be useful for anybody who wants a backup device or is looking for flexibility in terms of time/download allowances.  The "light" kit is better value than the active kit, but the pro kit is good for light users, as it works out as better value than 3's "light" billpay service.
The hitch is that the out of band costs are high once the initial kit expires or is used, but it is possible to buy a sim-only upgrade to bill pay if you like the service.

Plan     Duration     Data Allowance     Price
Broadband Day     1 day of access     500MB     €3
Broadband Week     1 week of access     2GB     €10
Broadband Month 1GB     30 days of access     1GB     €15
Broadband Month 7.5GB     30 days of access     7.5GB     €25
Broadband Month 20GB     30 days of access     20GB     €35

Vodafone
Many people say Vodafone are the best in breed when it comes to 3g and its noted that they have not 1, but 3 masts in Swords - quite exceptional.  I haven't tested their services, but believe that they are fairly good.

Vodafone offer "stick modems" in the 20-30 euro range online (add 30 euros for buying instore), and refurbs are sometimes online.
Models on offer are their own K3770

Daily    Weekly    Monthly
Cost    €3    €10    €20
Data    500MB    2GB    5GB
Its worth pointing out that Vodafone has but one major deficiency - they charge extra for access to SIP and VOIP services - so if you use Skype as your telephony provider, it will cost 20 euro a month and it is not available on the PAYG service.

eMobile
eMobile, like Meteor, are owned by Eircom, but strangely, only eMobile shares the general eircon desire to thoroughly gouge the consumer.  For some bizarre reason than only Eircon can know, most services provided are almost identical to Meteor, albeit at a higher price.  These are occasionally discounted for those gulliable enough to have stuck with eircon, at least marginally.  However broadband services, bar the current offer of 696553 months broadband at half price - are identically priced to Meteor, although don't offer the same range.  Both companies throw in free eircom wireless, but as anybody who has ever tried to use this will know, it frequently isn't where they advertise it at, or doesn't actually work at all.  (I tried it for a few months when it came out first, but found it unreliable).

For those who have taken the ditch eircom plunge (well unless its indirectly via eMobie or Meteor), there are two VOIP or SIP services I have tried:

Blueface
These come highly recommended by many friends.
You'll need to buy a SIP enabled phone or adapter, and a yearly cost for voip number is 10 if you are porting your existing number, but I don't see an option to buy a geographic style number.
An annual account offering 300 minutes a month is just 99 euros per year or 9.99 per month, and an unlimited Irish landline account is 14.99 or 149 per annum.  There is also a PAYG option which could be handy to try out the service.

Goldfish
These guys offer a geographic number starting from only 2.50 per month, and could be used for forwarding - however it is considered a business service so it may not be possible.

Skype

Skype sell a geographic number for 28.50 per year if you subscribe to them.  As this can be from as little as 89c a month for 60 minutes of calls, this is very cheap.  However you do need the hardware (i.e. a skype enabled voip phone) but this can be found for as little as 60 euros.  Smartphone users (at least those on Apple, Symbian or Android) can also use on the go which could be very practical for business users.

Non 3g options
Digiweb offer a "metro" service which is wireless, for around 30+ euro per month
Imagine's wimax service is another good option, includes a phone and is 4G based
Magnet offer lightning speed services in a limited number of areas - mostly built in huge Celtic Tiger developments
UPC are one of the best options as you can get internet, phone and TV for very good prices - as little as 60-70 euro per month - it does seem to be possible to purchase TV and broadband without phone services and skype works well over this service (have used it regularly)

There are other fixed options available - well worth checking the market as new services are becoming available all of the time.

For those who do go with 3G for the primary internet link, you need a decent 3g router in order to feed secondary devices - unless you purchase a wireless router and modem in one - but don't as this usually precludes using wired devices (unless phone isn't needed).  There are 2 brands known to be good - Edimax (available widely in the Maplins chain from about 60 euro to 150 euro) and the wonderful Dovado devices sold by Commsoft.

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