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2007-03-17

Vodafone USB Modem

Filed under: Communication,Hardware — rg3 @ 23:16

This post intends to be a big thank you directed at a young lady working as a local Vodafone employee in a shop near the area where I live. I still live in one of those places where, as of 2007, there’s no broadband available. Not a single possibility of getting ADSL or cable, so I’m a dialup user. Recently, my hopes for getting broadband increased as two of the most important cell phone companies in Spain released a similar product, which is a USB GSM modem. With these devices, you can connect to the Internet from almost anywhere.

Depending on where you’re connecting from, the modem can currently establish three types of connection. I’ll ommit acronyms and I’m sorry if I’m a little vague on the details. The most basic connection type, available almost everywhere, gives you a connection speed similar to dialup access (56 kbps). If you’re a little bit lucky, you may live or connect from an area in which the second type of connection is available, giving you around 350 kbps. I don’t recall the exact number, but it’s not 384. Finally, if you’re plain lucky or live in one of the main cities in Spain, you can get a 3.6 mbps connection.

In the most common offer from both companies, Movistar and Vodafone, you can get one of these devices and pay around 40 euros a month for the connection, which has a traffic limit of 1 GB per month. Compared to ADSL or cable it’s expensive (mainly due to the traffic limit), but it was the only possibility for me. I had two main concerns. The first and most important one was about what type of connection I could get at home, and the second one was that the device was officially supported under Windows and Mac, but not under my operating system of choice, which is Linux. The devices from both companies look similar. I’d swear they’re the same model with different colors and stickers. Movistar published in their webpage the exact model number and it seems support for it was recently added to Linux, from kernel 2.6.20 onwards. It uses the module called option, which can be found in the configuration menu at Device Drivers > USB Support > USB Serial Converter Support > USB driver for GSM and CDMA modems. This location and the module name may vary in the future.

So what did I do? I went to a local Movistar shop and to a local Vodafone shop to get information about the price and service conditions. Basically, I explained to the employees in both shops the situation I described above, saying that broadband was not available, and informing them of the area where I live, because this is a small town and lacks street names and house numbers (yes, we have been complaining to the townhall for years!). Everyone knew the area, probably because there’s a popular beach 1.5 kilometers away. I also explained to them that the basic connection type was not acceptable for me, because I can get a similar dialup connection for a much lower price. So far, so good. Everyone nodded their heads and understood what I wanted and my worries.

Movistar had a lower price, but you could only get a 18-months minimum contract with no test period. Basically, “pay us and then try”. Too risky. They gave me a phone number where I could get more coverage information. Vodafone had a higher price, with 18-months minimum too, but the device had a 15 days test period. If I had a problem with it, I could cancel the contract in those first 15 days. They also gave me a phone number to get more information.

I arrived home and called both companies. Noone was able to give me accurate information. Mind you, I even had my house coordinates at hand in case they could have been useful, but everyone was asking for the town name, which didn’t appear in the database, and also asked for the postal code, which covers a very big area which wasn’t good enough to give me a definitive yes or no answer.

I thought about it and came to the conclusion that Vodafone was the way to go. After all, the two questions in my mind (could I get a 350 kbps connection? was the device going to work under Linux?) could be easily answered by simply trying, and the Vodafone test period was appropriate. I simply cannot understand why Movistar doesn’t let you test the device. A device you can use almost everywhere but with a very variable connection speed (from 56 kbps to 3.6 mbps). I think it’s very important to test it before agreeing to pay (40 x 18 = 720) euros. Even if they consider their database accurate enought (which is not, as my calls proved), you can’t still be sure. What if the connection works perfectly in the kitchen but not in the computer room due to the building structure? You can’t really be sure.

I went back to the Vodafone shop and explained my decision to the young lady. I had been unable to get accurate information, but the best thing I could do was to use the 15 days test period and try. She then explained me that eventhough I really had that test period I would really need to get information on the coverage, because the process of cancelling the contract was a pain in the neck. She asked for phone number to reach me later and volunteered to try to find out the information for me. I also asked her to give me precise information about the amount of money I would lose if I cancelled the contract in those first 15 days, because she wasn’t really sure.

Due to previous experiences with this type of situations, I wasn’t expecting her to call me back and was already making plans to return to the shop one week later to see if she had more information. However, fast forward 3 hours, I’m at home and she calls me. She had traced two customers they had in my area, who used a similar device to get an Internet connection and said only the basic 56 kbps type was available. Then, she had contacted what she tried to explain was the Vodafone man in charge in my area, which also seconded that information. Conclusion: I better not get the USB modem, at least for now.

I was really impressed because she really cared about me. She didn’t try to sell me the modem and get me to pay. Moreover, she answered quickly, very precisely, with the information I needed. In the past, everytime I had been involved in similar conversations with phone companies, they always wanted me to buy first. When you asked about the service quality, the price, the conditions, they’re evasive. The data in their webpages doesn’t match what the sales representative tells you, which is also different to what the customer support representative tells you. I can’t vouch things always work this way at Vodafone or if this was an exception, but I doubt I’ll get such a good response in the future from a big company. With this post I only wanted to thank her again for being so efficient and professional. This country needs more people like you, so keep up the good work!

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