In these recent years, with 3G and 3.5G being accepted as a common and popular mobile network, HSPA (High-Speed Packet Access) becomes very crucial for road warriors, as they are much faster than GPRS network and easy to use.
A person will need a 3G or 3.5G-enabled devices to use this high-speed network (of course, this service is dependent on the Telecommunication Company of the country). It can be in-built in the devices already or it can be in an external unit.
This review is based on HuaWei’s USB Modem E170. HuaWei Technologies Co., Ltd has been aggressively promoting their USB Modems.
HuaWei’s latest USB stick modem is much smaller than its predecessor (E220). Technically, this USB stick modem is actually a modem, an USB flash, a virtual CD-ROM drive.
In this review, I will be using the modem from Singapore Telecommunication operator, Starhub.
The package from Starhub comes in only white colour with a Starhub logo. It is packaged into a DVD size cover with the modem itself and an extended cable. The major difference between E220 (the predecessor) and this E170 is that E170 itself has already a USB connection point. In normal operation, you will not need to use the extended cable. In the operation manual, it states that this cable may be used to enhance the signal. You will need to purchase the SIM Card separately for this modem. Or you can use your existing SIM Card on it. Starhub bundled this package with an unlimited Data SIM Card that is easy to install onto the device.
The modem is very light and the finishing is of high quality. The size is slightly bigger than a convention thumb drive. The Dimensions is 80.5mm long by 24.1 mm on the width and 11.8 mm thick. It is glossy white in color and extremely well made. The USB connection is hidden with a cover that is quite sturdy. The cover comes with a silver hinge for you to hang this device around. Near to the USB connection port is the SIM Card holder. It is carefully hidden and flushed with the overall design. I wouldn’t be too sure about that as the device may drop off if it is being pulled (and you are left with a cover only).
As mentioned previously, this modem is a virtual CD-ROM drive. Reason being that the software is flashed into it and it is detected as a CD-ROM drive when plugged in. A Dell laptop was used for this connection check. It took about 5 minutes to setup the modem automatically. You will be prompt for the first time to install the software into the computer. It is a compulsory step. After the installation, the Starhub connection panel will show up and you just need to click on the connect icon. Starhub connection is based on HSDPA/HSUPA/UMTS/EDGE/GPRS/GSM.
It takes a minute for it to connect (the modem that I have is without password. Therefore, it is automatically connected when I push the connect icon).
The main panel will show connected once it is done and on the bottom right hand corner of your computer, you can see the Starhub modem logo.
On the main panel itself, you can switch to the statistics page to see the upload and download speed with a nice graph. There is also the text and phone book page that I did not explore. Basically, according to Starhub, the SIM Card is a data card that could not be used for calling. However, basic text messaging is possible. As for the phone book, it is the contacts storage of the SIM card. For this bundle, there are 500 contact slots.
Ideally, the download speed for this modem using the Starhub service should be 7.2Mbps. However, the actual performance showed otherwise. This could be due to the signal strength and download sharing factors.
A few tests were done on a website by clicking a link on it to a heavily pictured page and also by refreshing this same page. Both results were satisfactory as it can be loaded within a minute.
The connection is stable. In fact, this unit was tested with Skype and webcam. It has a little lag but this may be due to the other party wireless connection. Therefore, this is not conclusive.
This little device is best for Road Warriors to download emails and surf the Internet. As the form factor is small, it can be easily carried around. With an unlimited Data plan, this unit can be connected to the Internet all day without worrying about the bills.
The HSDPA Downlink is 7.2Mbps & HSUPA Uplink 2Mbps, it is still not the fastest as compared to a LAN network. It is not intended for gaming and if you have many heavy files to upload, you may feel the lagging.
If you intend to use it overseas, please check with your Telecommunication operator on the overseas data rate. It may cause a huge dent in your wallet.
Overall, this device serves the basic purpose of connection on the move. With is small form factor, it can be carried anywhere. The connection speed is very dependent on the telecommunication operator. With testing on the previous model (E220) at a 1.8Mbps to 3.6Mbps, some connection heavy task could be quite taxing. You should seriously consider the minimum standard of 7.2Mbps downlink if you wish to use it frequently. It is a Must-Have item for Road Warriors at this moment.