• Has the mobile broadband dongle had its day? Do you want something sticking out the side of your laptop instead of using tethering or a portable mobile hotspot?

    Well, if it performs like the new E367 dongle, with HSPA+ support, you probably won’t mind.

    Given my own personal preference, Three’s MiFi seems like the best way of getting online. With most devices now having Wi-Fi, it’s an excellent way of getting between one and five devices online at the same time, making it viable for use at home or a small office instead of a landline, or cable, based broadband service.

    The upside is you can pop the MiFi in a pocket and forget about it. The downside is it’s another thing to carry with you, and remember to keep charged.

    You can hook a MiFi up to a single device via USB and use it like a dongle, but it’s not as small as Huawei’s dedicated dongle.

    More importantly, Huawei’s E367 mobile broadband dongle has a totally new chipset that Three claims makes it work faster than earlier dongles, irrespective of the support for HSPA+ that will ultimately allow the dongle to work at even higher speeds when the network is upgraded.

    Three will be rolling out HSPA+ upgrades throughout the UK over the coming months, which will potentially see speeds of upto 21.6Mbps. Considering many people using ADSL get speeds of around 1-2Mbps, that’s quite an increase.

    But, the industry is always being slammed for coming up with best-case scenario figures and then failing to deliver. As a result, I was naturally sceptical that this new dongle would be any different to the ones released before.

    Keen to try the dongle out as quickly as possible, my first place to test it was on a train. Surrounded by metal, tiny windows and overhead wires giving off electromagnetic interference, it was certainly being thrown in at the deep end.

    The result of a speed test had me shocked. With the test carried out at www.speedtest.net, the very first test resulted in a staggering 12.81Mbps down and 1.47Mbps up!

    Perhaps Three wasn’t just exaggerating after all. Although I didn’t have an older dongle to test, I did conduct a test at the same location using an LG Optimus 2X which didn’t exceed 5Mbps (the phone itself supports HSPA at speeds of 10.2Mbps).

    Even after doing more tests, I achieved speeds of 9.4Mbps and 10Mbps on the downlink. Pretty impressive by any standards.

    With further tests carried out in the City of London, the speeds did drop quite markedly to between 2-3Mbps, and I never managed to get over 4Mbps again, most likely a result of increased usage in the area (the so-called ‘iPhone-effect’). However, even after being somewhat spoiled with such impressive figures in a more rural location, it’s not something you’re likely to be disappointed with.

    Installation of the dongle is quick and easy, as long as you’re using a PC or Mac. I used an Apple MacBook Air for the test, and the connection software installed quickly. Once loaded, the connection manager disables Wi-Fi automatically to save battery (and restarts it when you disconnect), but it does only install the software for a single user. If you switch user, you’ll have to re-install the software and reconnect.

    This isn’t the only niggle, as you also have to remember to disconnect before putting the laptop into standby, as it won’t automatically reconnect when restarted. Should you forget, it can confuse the software and result in errors. To fix, simply remove the dongle and reconnect it.

    The E367 also, like previous dongles from Huawei and ZTE, also has a microSDHC card slot so it can operate as a flash drive with cards of upto 32GB in capacity supported. It also tilts so you can get the best reception. Huawei also includes a short USB extension cable to allow you to place the dongle further away if you prefer.

    Three is offering the E367 for £69.99 on prepay (with 1GB of data included) with the price dropping to £49.99 if you sign up to a monthly rolling contract at £15.99 per month for 5GB of data. Sign on a two-year contract, with 15GB of data per month, and £18.03 a month gets you the dongle for free. Three is also offering the E367 on its own as an upgrade for £59.99. If you’ve got an older dongle, you really must upgrade!

    To keep track of the data used, Three has the My3 website that shows you your remaining data allowance, as well as the connection manager that keeps track of the data sent and received for the current connection.

    [wpgalleryimage title=”Editors-Choice-5Star” float=right]I’d probably prefer to wait for an HSPA+ enabled MiFi unit using the same chipset, but if you want a simple and easy solution that offers some incredible real-world speeds, the E367 is here and now. It proves there’s plenty of life in the dongle yet.

    Rating: 5 out of 5

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