GRPS (General Packet Radio Service) is a 2.5G technology that bridges the gap between second generation (2G) narrowband networks and third generation (3G) wideband networks such as Hutchison's 3. The technology has been around for a while and has paved the way for data applications such as MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service), which is used to send photo and video messages between mobile phones.
Vodafone's Connect Card is not intended as a mobile phone replacement; you can't use it to make calls. Instead, it provides a wireless connection from your notebook to the Internet, as long as you're in a Vodafone coverage area. Vodafone provides a PC Card, software and a network data plan that work in combination to provide a network connection as well as the ability to send and receive text messages from your computer.
Upfront, you also need to fork out AU$299 for Vodafone to provide a Mobile Connect Card, which in our case is a Sony Ericsson GC75 GPRS Modem. It is triple GSM band (900/1800/1900 MHz) capable card which allows you to use Vodafone's network throughout Australia and in 13 countries around the world. The Mobile Connect Card holds a data-only subscribed SIM, so you can't make calls with it by putting it in your mobile phone. It looks similar to most PC cards except it comes with a detachable, red antenna which swivels through 360 degrees. Although a Vodafone representative stated it should operate without the antenna we found the attachment necessary to achieve decent signal strength.
Vodafone bundles software on an accompanying CD to take you step-by-step through the installation process. Three options are available for installation: personal, corporate, or customised. We opted for the personal installation which took around five minutes before we were up and running with a Vodafone-branded dashboard prompting us with options.
The dashboard is a clean interface, with several large icons at the top that connect to Vodafone's network, bring up an SMS interface, check data usage, list support options, launch your e-mail client, and start your instant messenger application.
The SMS button brings up your inbox, drafts, outbox, sent items, and contacts in separate tabs. It's also possible to import contact information stored on your SIM through the dashboard.
Vodafone claims the GPRS data service has a download speed of 50-55kpbs (kilobits per second), which is just a tad slower than the theoretical 56kbps of home dialup modems. In reality, other factors come into play. The level of traffic on a network as well as the strength of the signal can affect the data transmission rate.
Using Line Speed Meter from Sigma Solutions we averaged about 40kbps from several tests around the Sydney region.
Telstra offers a similar service using a CDMA technology called 1xRTT, which the company claims can acheive up to 144kbps download speed. However, it doesn't have the advantage of Vodafone's global presence.
Unlike Telstra's CDMA 1xRTT service, Vodafone sells data plans based on download quota rather than connection time. Vodafone offers a 15MB, 50MB, and unlimited (subject to fair use policy) plan for AU$49.95, AU$99.95, and AU$150 per month, respectively. Not including the initial hardware cost, this works out to be about AU$3.33 per megabyte on the AU$50 plan and AU$2 per megabyte on the AU$100 plan.
Vodafone provides free telephone support, in store assistance and further information can be found in the 64-page user manual or on Vodafone's Web site.