GTran DotSurfer GPC6210 wireless broadband PC card review
Posted on 29-Jun-2005 18:52 by Peter Torr Smith| Filed under: Reviews
New Zealand based Advanced Portable Solutions recently sent me their GTran DotSurfer GPC6210 wireless broadband PC Card try out.
This 3G (CDMA 1x EV-DO) card fits a Type II PCMCIA slot, and comes with a handy USB cable connector for other situations. It has a pretty robust multi-swivel omni-directional antenna that does not seem to be too much of a protrusion, and feels like it would take a few knocks and pulls.
This card connects to the Telecom New Zealand 3G network if available, and seamlessly steps down to use their CDMA 1xRTT network when CDMA EV-DO is not available. Supported CDMA standards are 1x EVDO, 1x RTT, IS-95A, IS-95B.
The card is stated as offering speeds up to 2.4Mbps megabits per second), though currently Telecom writes that its 3G network will provide “average download speeds of around 300Kbps - 500Kbps, with a huge maximum of 2Mbps”. CDMA 1xRTT connections can operate up to 153Kbps. My experience around Wellington CBD was pretty much along those lines, with the top download speeds I achieved being around 1Mbps, but averaging about 400Kbps.
At times inside buildings I would find that my connections were down to around 75 - 140Kbps when the card had dropped down into using the CDMA 1xRTT network.
The card, manual, CD and USB cable
This card comes with drivers for Windows and for Pocket PC (CE 3.0 & Pocket PC OS 2002), though as not many readily available Pocket PC devices have built-in PCMCIA slots, and I could not get hold of an expansion sleeve for my older HP iPaq, I was unable to test the latter.
As for getting this going on my Tablet PC, the whole experience was reasonably painless. The manual that comes with it is one of the best I’ve seen for any hardware… Simple step-by-step instructions, colour images & screenshots, and well laid out. Though not necessaryily a reflection of the hardware, it is one of those small things that indicate some thought has gone into product usability.
The standard Windows installation involves not only drivers, but also a small DotSurfer dialer application, and a runtime copy of the Borland Database Engine, to run in the background as the storage provider for all the phone-like “features” of contacts phone list and text message store.
After this installation, on initial insert, the card gets auto-detected and installation is completed. From then on the dialer runs as a tray icon and your device is “on” the network in pretty much the same way a standard CDMA phone is.
The dialer software
The card has a Telecom assigned phone number and you can send and receive text messages without manually establishing a full broadband connection. The card’s number can be phoned, which is handly to allow you to receive faxes.
You can establish a broadband connection with a right-click on the tray-icon, and/or double-click it to bring up the dialer / message centre.
The dialer interface lets you monitor and control the broadband connection, and allows you to send and receive Text messages, receive faxes, and send emails. Like a normal phone, the card has onboard storage for basic PIM information (0.5MB, or around 100 contacts).
The dialer - sending SMS
I almost always got connected to the available network within 3-6 seconds, and I found my connection to be very stable, with the card moving between EV-DO and 1xRTT to maintain the best type of connection possible in the conditions. The software did complain once or twice if I pulled the card out of its socket mid connection, but simply restarting the dialer gets things back to normal.
As for speed, well that really depends on where you are. CDMA 1x EV-DO coverage is still variable, even in the main centres, so luckily enough the CDMA network is there as a backstop. From our apartment and from a client's office I was getting about 400Kbps, whilst from my main work office closer to parliament, I was getting around 1Mbps.
I used a number of mechanisms to evaluate download and upload speeds, including using FTP through to my work, a couple of Java based speed test utilities and a local test page for gamers.
With Skype, the internet telephony service, I successfully managed to place a phone call to a landline from my Tablet PC with the card over the CDMA 1x EV-DO connection, and I imagine Skype should work acceptably at 1x RTT speeds also.
Currently Telecom New Zealand’s 3G network is present in the main centres and some key holiday spots like Queenstown, but they claim that 3G will be in every main town and city in the country by Christmas 2005. The lower-speed CDMA 1xRTT network is already available everywhere Telecom has cellular coverage, so pretty widespread.
As for power consumption, that will vary depending on your usage patterns, but the specifications show its transmit current is a maximum of 850 mA, its receive current a maximum of 150 mA, and whilst in sleep mode, a maximum of 20 mA.
Overall this was a nice card to have around and seemed robust and reliable. Having the option of using this card via USB is a nice feature, and APT have emphasised to me their strong focus on after-sales support and service. Retailing at NZ$650 (US$450) for this card, the price is still high for the hardware, but I would hope that shortly the Telecom subsidy that is applied in their current offer of Card + 36 month data contract could be extended to allow the consumer a wider choice of hardware and hardware providers (dealer pricing on this unit would seem comparable to that in their current offer).