Tools Of The Trade: The Orange 3G/ HSDPA data card

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The Independent Online

Data cards that let laptop users connect to the internet over the mobile network have been one of the quiet successes of 3G, with business people being able to work from almost anywhere there is a mobile signal.

Orange's latest data card brings the added promise of connections that, at up to 1.8mbps, approach the speed of fixed broadband, using a technology known as HSDPA. Just as importantly for UK-based mobile workers, the card also supports the Edge network. This is not quite 3G, with a maximum speed of around 0.2mbps, but it is significantly faster than conventional 2.5G or GPRS data.

Edge is designed as a relatively low-cost upgrade to existing 2G networks, whereas 3G means building new transmitters. Orange says it is the first UK network to have a nationwide Edge service - the idea being that it will fill the gaps in places, such as rural areas, where populations are too small to justify an investment in 3G.

We were not able to test the Edge card in areas where no 3G networks exist. But it maintained a virtually constant connection to the internet during a high-speed train trip from Cambridge to London.

Indeed, the card provided a perfectly good speed in almost all conditions, with or without the supplied aerial. It connected quickly and simply, and did not seem to suffer from the failed connections that have plagued earlier 3G cards in places with a poor 3G signal.

Orange supplies the card with software that manages the connection, and supports other services such as text messaging.

This software is for Microsoft Windows only; Orange, unlike Vodafone, does not supply Macintosh software out of the box.

However, Mac users with PC-card compatible laptops can download the excellent launch2net software from German publisher Novamedia (the trial version is free).

Orange supplies the 3G data card at no charge on some tariffs, although there is a charge for data. But both the pricing and reliability of 3G data cards have improved significantly since their launch just under two years ago.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Pros: robust performance, good speeds.

Cons: none to note, although software is Windows-only.

Cost: from free with a contract; data bundles start at £20 per month for business users.