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Unpacking the Vodafone vodem
Posted on 5-Oct-2006 09:21 by M Freitas | Tags Filed under: Reviews

Early this morning I got my Vodafone vodem, the new Vodafone 3G HSDPA USB modem, the little device that allows me to connect to Vodafone's new HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access) network - and I took some pictures and screenshots of my "unpacking".

I've tested the HSDPA network before and posted in my personal blog, but this time is for real.

How did I get a vodem? Well, from the beginning of this week you can just walk into any Vodafone NZ store and buy yourself one, with or without a plan. But in the few weeks before the official HSDPA network launch, Vodafone ran a competition on a special viral website (no longer active). About 800 people registered on the site, and the first 8 would get a free vodem, with others going to a draw to get free vodem and discounts. Positions #9 and #10 went to an on-line auction site, which attracted quite a bid war.

I was in the first 10. Actually, the first 10 people will get personalised boxes, as you can see below, with the number printed. So I can say I have the Vodem #2 in New Zealand:

The short USB cable is the most practical and you'll probably use this one. The longer cable comes with two USB plugs, so that the vodem can be powered from two USB ports (as it happens with some external HDD) if the power provided by a single port on your PC is not enough. There are some juicy information on the FCC site about this hardware. Of course the Vodafone version comes with its own software, but I don't think the USB cable can act as an antenna, as relayed to us by some Vodafone people.

The Vodafone vodem comes with everything you need to run on a Windows PC, with no need to install anything from a CD. Everything you need is stored on vodem's own memory, and the computer just see it as a new drive. As soon as you plug it the install program will start and guide you through a single-step installation. No choices, nothing. Plug and play really.

It is also compatible with Mac OS, but in this case you need to install the software from the provided CD. And be sure to check: the vodem is not (at the moment) compatible with Intel-based Mac computers.

After this you will have the latest Vodafone Mobile Connect Lite on your computer, and the vodem will be just a modem - a very fast one! It connects at 3.6 Mbps (megabits per second) in some places here in New Zealand (mainly the large cities), but Vodafone promised this to be the standard speed everywhere as the time passes by.

After unpacking you will find out that this device is actually a rebranded Huawei E220 HSDPA modem. And before you ask, its max speed is 3.6Mbps, so you will need an upgraded device next year, when Vodafone releases it 7.2Mbps HSDPA network upgrade.

However don't be impressed with these numbers! The actual speed you see will be depending on how many people on the network, how far away from a cell tower you are and more. On my previous tests with a PC Card I managed to get up to 1.4Mbps, but that was before the network launch. I have tested again with the vodem, and my actual speed was about 400Kbps. Far from the expected 700 - 800Kpbs, but I'd say this will be "tweaked" as we go for the next few weeks. The network is brand new and some fine tunning needs to be done. So let's stay on top of this and check again in a couple of weeks time.

UPDATE: A second test, closer to a cell site, resulted in better speeds, as you can see below. These numbers are more likely to be an average experience I believe:

The Vodafone Mobile Connect Lite is very easy to use, and requires no configuration at all, although you are welcome to change the APN information if needed, a feature that will be welcome by IT Admins, and tweakers alike. The help is very complete and easy to read.

Apparently the "Enable anonymous usage statistics capture" option allows Vodafone to receive anonymous information about usage and use this information to enhance and develop new functionality. I guess (I can only guess) that this information relates to things such as data speeds, location, roaming network, types of connections. If this is the case then Vodafone will be collecting a wealth of information that could help them fine tune the network. Let's see if it helps. This option is set by default.

From time to time you will be prompted to install an upgrade, if one is available. This checking is an automatic feature, and can not be disabled through the UI. But you always want to have the latest software, right?

The software actually install a new DUN in the Network configuration. You can manually configure a new DUN connectoid but why bother? It's all ready to go, so let's not mess with this for now. Also there is an usage meter, and of course you have to use the Vodafone Mobile Connect Lite software to have the traffic counted.

Below are some screenshots from the Vodafone Mobile Connect Lite user interface:

  • Small and lite
  • Great for UMPC (ultra mobile PC)
  • Very easy to use

  • Another dongle dangling from your PC (but it comes with some velcro stickers!)

  • More information:

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