Vodafone Australia is set to launch a USB modem for notebooks and desktop PCs that will provide a 1.8Mbit/s wireless broadband internet connection over its 3G mobile network.
Vodafone Australia is set to launch a USB modem for notebooks and desktop PCs that will provide a 1.8Mbit/s wireless broadband internet connection over its soon-to-be-upgraded 3G mobile network.
The modem uses the High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) standard, which is an upgrade to the original 384Kbit/s 3G data standard.
All four major networks in Australia Ã¢â‚¬" Optus, Telstra, Vodafone and Three Ã¢â‚¬" are rushing to implement HSDPA but Vodafone is first to lift the wraps on an actual modem it will soon be selling.
"The chipset in the modem is actually capable of up to 3.6Mbit/s, which is the next revision of HSDPA, and of course it's also completely backwards compatible with 384Kbit/s 3G and GPRS on 2G," said Dave McNaughton, Senior Product Marketing Manager for Vodafone Australia.
Importantly, the modem will come with software for both Windows and Mac OS X, which will be a relief for owners of Apple's new MacBook Pro which has a new ExpressCard slot that can't accommodate any of the wireless broadband cards currently on the market.
Vodafone is also developing a new version of its Dashboard software that is compatible with the upcoming Windows Vista.
"An ExpressCard 3G modem is actually scheduled for release, but in the same timeframe, this USB device is also going to become available and we think people will prefer the versatility of a USB device," said Dave McNaughton,
"USB is cemented as the peripheral connection standard for all PCs and will be for plenty of time to come."
The modem itself is a Vodafone branded Huawei E220, which is smaller than a business card and only 14.5mm thick. It has a standard 5-pin mini-USB connector at one end for connection to the PC.
Vodafone says it will ship it with velcro tabs that will enable it to be affixed to the back of a notebook lid so notebook users won't have to dangle their dongle.
"Pricing is of course the 64 million dollar question at the moment," McNaughton told APC.
"Initially, it won’t have the same sales volumes on a global basis as the PC card form factor has today, so I’m sure it will come out at a premium to the card. We sell our 3G PC card for $299, so I’m thinking this device might be somewhere in the range of $399, though we don't have a definite price yet," he said.
However, Vodafone is not planning to sell the modem with plans that will directly compete with fixed wireless broadband for home users at this stage. "Our focus right now is definitely the mobile scenario. But now we certainly can look at competing with fixed wireless desktop broadband providers.
"Right now, though, it’s more about getting the device out to the market to take care of MacBook Pro users and corporate laptop users who have found their new PC only has an ExpressCard slot.
"We’ve been feeding back to manufacturers for over a year that we need an ExpressCard, but it’s a chicken and egg problem, which is why the USB device was a very appealing. Virtually every PC out there now has USB."
McNaughton wouldn't say when the modem would be released except that it would be out by the last quarter of this calendar year.
"We also can’t yet talk about a fixed introduction date for HSDPA on the network, but the introduction of the USB modem and the HSDPA capability are not necessarily coupled; we want the USB device out as soon as possible for customers who can’t currently use a PC card."