STARHUB'S new 21Mbps mobile broadband service is easy to use, convenient and pretty speedy, although its not what I would call cheap.
Singapore's second largest telecommunications company loaned The Straits Times a mobile broadband modem to test out its service just before its commercial launch last week. SingTel and MobileOne are expected to launch similar services later this year.
The first, slower incarnation of the service was launched in 2007, and since then such services have become increasingly popular amongst notebook computer users that want Internet access on-demand, for instance, going online in areas not covered by wireless networks like the Wireless@SG service.
Setup was a breeze. Insert the finger-sized device into a USB port, double click on the icon for it, and double click one more time to install the software.
Once this is done, the mobile broadband icon now appears on the desktop. To get connected, just click on it and select "connect".
The modem connects users to StarHub's 3G cellular network for Internet access. This means that users should be able to get online as long as there is 3G service – pretty much all of Singapore at this point in time.
During the trial period, I was able to use the service across a good range of locations, from Ulu Pandan Road to Yio Chu Kang to the Suntec Convention Centre.
Getting a connection was never a problem; I always connected on the first try.
As I was also concurrently on a work-from-home trial, I also occasionally used it in place of my home fixed broadband network.
It performed admirably here as well, at times outperforming the wired connection.
That said, reliability was not perfect, and the connection dropped several times through the two-week trial. Nonetheless, there were days when I would use it for four-hour blocks or longer without problem.
Within that trial period, I uploaded some 12GB of data, and downloaded slightly less using it for a range of activities, from accessing my office secured network to check my e-mail, to working on stories, reading news articles, updating my Facebook status and playing web-based games.
YouTube videos, a good gauge of latency, also did fairly well, and I could watch most videos without stutter.
In short – the service is good and convenient.
This though, comes at a price - $118 per month, to be exact. Customers who sign up for a two-year plan now get a 30 per cent discount, so they effectively pay slightly more than $80 a month; the modem itself comes free.
So, who should get this? At this price, probably those who depend on high-speed mobile access for work – insurance agents or mobile sales teams, for instance.
Another possible use scenario: as a replacement for fixed home broadband.
This would work well for those that do not use it during work hours or those who do not need to access the Internet at home urgently and thus can afford to wait for the person who has the modem to come back.