LM-Technologies has released a SIM-free HSPA USB modem that retails for £60, or less. Is it money well spent? Well, if you travel abroad it certainly might be.
A couple of years ago, USB dongles were all the rage, offering easy mobile broadband access on any computer with a USB port. Newer models then arrived to support higher data speeds and added a memory card slot to double the dongle up as a flash drive.
Invariably, these dongles are purchased on a specific network and locked accordingly. With a contract, they’re always going to be free, but on prepay you can still pay from £30-£80 – although that usually includes a bundled amount of data to use.
For low users, the prepay option with a bundle may be more than adequate. But, what about travelling abroad? Mobile data when roaming isn’t just expensive, it’s extortionate. Al Capone might have been impressed by these costs, but nobody else is.
However, mobile data can still be obtained at a fair price in foreign lands if you know what you’re doing. All it requires is the purchase of a prepay mobile broadband SIM, giving the same sort of data bundles as we have here – possibly even cheaper.
Although a dongle can be unlocked if you know where to look, it’s not required with the LM003. The 9cm long dongle, which looks spookily similar to the ones produced by Huawei (the device shares the same Qualcomm chipset), has a sliding cover to install your chosen SIM card and, if you want the flash drive function, an optional microSD memory card.
Once fitted, all you do is plug the dongle into the USB port of a PC running Windows, or Mac, and wait for the drivers to install. Then you can launch the connection manager application, which is where you configure the network settings. Settings can be obtained from a pull-down menu or by entering the settings manually (the UK network settings can be found in our Useful Information section).
The software also keeps track of the data sent and received, as well as telling you the connection speed. For uploading, the stick supports speeds up to 5.76Mbps, while downloading tops out at 7.2Mbps. In reality, speeds achieved will always be a lot lower unless you’re sitting next to the base station and nobody around you has any desire to use any data.
We did a speed test on Three (using www.speedtest.net), which was by no means scientific at all, but it topped 2Mbps on the downlink and 1.4Mbps on the uplink. Acceptable, and unlikely to be down to the dongle itself.
Everything worked as designed, but the dongle did feel cheaply built, with the weakest point being the plastic cover for the SIM/memory card slot. It is very easy to slide off and, given that it detaches completely, could end up being lost completely. If you are going to carry this around with you everywhere you go, some sort of makeshift pouch would be a good thing to make. We opted to use a plastic bag that had come with a mobile phone battery.
Since the craze to buy dongles has died down a bit, we’ve seen the arrival of the Wi-Fi portable hotspot. These do away with the need to physically connect anything to a computer, avoiding the need for driver installation. Most devices now have Wi-Fi, so a device, like Three’s MiFi, allows you to also get multiple devices online instead of one. The LM003 can only connect one thing at a time, and is useless for things like Apple’s iPad, but it has the benefit of not requiring its own power or the entering of security keys to prevent people leeching your limited data allowance. Great as a MiFi is, it’s another device to require regular charging to work wirelessly. They’re also a lot bigger.
For ordinary use in the UK, we’d have to say that you’ll probably get a better deal (and a better built model) by going down the prepay route. The LM003 would have to be cheaper to really be worthwhile here. But, if you’re going abroad and want to get online, this could save you an absolute fortune in data roaming charges by enabling you to insert foreign SIM cards. It’s going to be a relatively small market, but an important one nonetheless.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Feels a little too cheap, and only really becomes a worthwhile purchase if you’re using it abroad when the savings could be substantial.
- SIM-free USB modem
- HSDPA 7.2Mbps, HSUPA 5.76Mbps
- GSM Quad-Band, 3G Single-Band
- microSD card slot, to double up as flash drive
- Drivers for Windows (2000,XP, Vista, Windows 7) and Mac
More info: www.lm-technologies.com