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3 Mobile Broadband USB modem (v.2) review: 3 Mobile Broadband USB modem (v.2)

While this newer USB modem from 3 carries itself with a sharp new look, it delivers nearly identical performance to its predecessor.

Joseph Hanlon Special to CNET News
Joe capitalises on a life-long love of blinking lights and upbeat MIDI soundtracks covering the latest developments in smartphones and tablet computers. When not ruining his eyesight staring at small screens, Joe ruins his eyesight playing video games and watching movies.
Joseph Hanlon
3 min read

3 Mobile's previous broadband USB modem shared its design with the competition's dongles; a largish elliptical pod dangling from your USB port by a short connecting cord. 3 has ditched the dongle — indicating that while it's still available it may soon be phased out of production — and replaced it with a smaller USB attachment with a sharper, sleeker design.


3 Mobile Broadband USB modem (v.2)

The Good

Stylish new design. Wire-free. 7.2Mbps download speed future-proofs against future network upgrades.

The Bad

No discernible performance boost over previous model.

The Bottom Line

When tested side-by-side with the previous model, the new 3 USB modem delivered an almost identical performance. Anyone faced with the option of buying the newer or older models would be wise to get this upgrade in preparation for 3 Mobile's network upgrade.

The new USB modem is shaped like a USB flash memory stick but twice as long. An extender cable is also bundled with the modem, which acts as an antenna for when the modem is used in areas of limited reception. If we have one tiny, niggling complaint to make about the design, it's that the cap which covers the USB connection on the front can't fit on the back of the modem when it's in use, making it somewhat easier to lose.

While compacting the hardware of the original design into its sexier new body, this revised model has also received a speed boost and is now capable of receiving data at 7.2Mbps, rather than 3.6Mbps like the older model. That said, the 3 Mobile network is, at the time of writing this, only capable of transmitting data at 3.6Mbps, however, an upgrade is scheduled for the end of 2008, which this new modem will be compatible with when the time comes.

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Similar to the previous model, the new 3 USB modem features auto-installation directly from the USB drive. There's also a CD in the box to install the necessary drivers and software to use the modem with a Mac.

As mentioned above, all software and drivers install directly off the USB drive after connecting it to the USB port on your PC. In our experience, the initial settings were correct so it was a plug'n'play affair.

3 Mobile has been kind enough to supply us with both an old and new model of the USB modems so we've had the opportunity to compare their performance side-by-side. To test the performance we ran a series of online speed tests including CNET's own broadband test.

The good news is that we saw comparable performance, with both the old and new models achieving an average download speed of around 1.5Mbps — 2.4Mbps at its fastest, and around 900Kbps at the slowest. While this is slower than the 3.6Mbps theoretical network maximum, it is in line with 3's advertised estimates.

The bad news is that we saw comparable performance. This new device, with or without its antenna attachment, performs almost identically to the older technology, and only time will tell the sort of enhanced performance we can expect beyond 3's network upgrade.

Our message to owners of the original 3 Mobile broadband USB modem: relax, your technology is yet to be superseded. The new modem has a sexier look, and is made more convenient without the attachment cable, but is ultimately mutton dressed as lamb. This isn't suggesting the old technology is bad — our connections have been pleasingly zippy — but until 3 upgrade its network to deliver data at 7.2Mbps then earlier adopters needn't rush out to replace the original devices.

Due to timing restrictions these tests were only conducted in a series of inner city locations where reception is predictably strong. If you use either model of 3 broadband USB modems that is distant from any major metro areas we'd love to hear about your experiences in the talk-back section below or on the forums.