by February 1, 2010 0 comments



How many times has it happened that you’re desperately trying to download an
important email, but there’s another one with a huge attachment getting in the
way? This may not bother you when you’re in office, because you would have
plenty of bandwidth, but what if you’re traveling with a notebook and a regular
Internet data card? We can just visualize the frustration on your faces now!

When Internet data cards were introduced many years ago, they provided a boon
to people who were constantly on the move. But over time, as Internet apps
became more bandwidth hungry, these data cards couldn’t handle the load.

The solution was to introduce data cards with higher speeds, and that’s
exactly what’s happening in the market right now. Reliance and Tata Indicom were
quick to realize this customer demand and introduced high-speed versions of
their data cards in the market. Now, many other players, like BSNL, MTS, and
Virgin are beginning to follow suite. This is likely to increase competition in
the market, and create a lot of confusion on how to choose the right one.

That’s why in this story, we decided to update you on what’s really happening
in the market. We managed to source data cards of Reliance and Tata Indicom, and
we’ve compared their performance. The rest were either still in the process of
launching their products, or were too slow in sending us samples for review.
Interestingly, one of the players had advertised data cards on their website,
but when we asked for an evaluation unit, they didn’t even know they had data
cards!

Just how fast are the new data cards?
So the first thing is first. We know that high-speed data cards give you
more bandwidth, but just how much more is it? Most players claim to provide
download speeds of 3.1 Mbps. Now that’s really good when compared to the
previous generation data cards, even if they achieve 50% of that! The other good
things about high-speed data cards is that they are plug-n-play devices, and
work on most platforms, be it Windows, Mac, or Linux. Most companies don’t levy
roaming charges for their data cards, and even provide network coverage on 2G
networks where EVDO coverage is unavailable. Plus, these new data cards are
backward compatible with their respective standards. We discuss all popular data
cards in detail in subsequent sections.

BSNL 3G Data Card
BSNL introduced its data card in early 2009. Initially its coverage was limited
to 11 cities but now it has increased to 75 cities including rural areas. It
aims to cover 700 cities in near future. For using the data card, you need to
have a SIM card with 3G activated on it. You can also upgrade your 2G SIM to 3G
with the same number and use it.

Tariff plans
The cost of the data card is Rs 3500 and it comes with a monthly plan with
speeds of 2.4 Mbps in most cities. Another way to use the data card is on a
monthly rental basis at Rs 200/month. The table below shows the tariff plans of
BSNL 3G data card. For additional usage the cost is Rs 2/Mb. The above plans
are same for the postpaid connections too. BSNL also offers a trial pack with 15
days validity. The customer has two options: a pack with 50 MB download limit
for Rs 60/month and the other with a 100MB download limit for Rs 120.

MBlaze by MTS
MTS joined the 3G data card bandwagon last October. The card comes in two forms
–MBlaze Premium and MBlaze Standard. With MBlaze premium, you can use the USB
as a data storage device with upto 2GB storage.

Tariff plans
MBlaze Premium costs Rs 3,499 while Rs 2,999 is the price of MBlaze Standard
plan. MBlaze allows free browsing of sites like Wikipedia, Yahoo! and MakeMyTrip
and for browsing other sites, you need to pay a nominal charge of 10paise/MB and
10p/MB for usage over 30GB.

The extra usage charge of Rs 0.50/MB is limited only within the validity
period and beyond the period you will have to pay Rs 2/MB. Also you will not be
able to access Internet beyond the coverage area. MTS presently covers 19
cities including the major metropolis and is planning to extend it to more
cities.

V.Flash by Virgin
Virgin Mobile has recently launched its 3G data card V.Flash which is said
to be a high connection data card with built in 8GB data storage.

Tariff plans
The charge of the data card is Rs 3,500 with zero rental for the first 30
days. The tariff plans are really cheap Virgin doesn’t have any unlimited plan
as of date.

Reliance Broadband
Reliance NetConnect was available in retail outlets from March 2009. The
wireless connection uses the EVDO technology for high speed broadband service
and it claims to provide 3.1 Mbps download speed and 1.8 Mbps upload speed. The
coverage of the network is claimed to be in 35 cities.

Tariff plans
Reliance NetConnect Broadband Plus can be purchased for Rs 3500 from any
retail outlet or you can buy the Reliance data card at Reliance Web World
stores. Reliance offers many prepaid tariff plans but some popular plans are
with prices of Rs 250, Rs 500, Rs 1375, Rs 1925, each with the validity of
30days. However each has different data limits. For additional usage the tariff
is Rs 1/MB.

With Reliance NetConnect you will get life time validity and free data usage
of 10 GB for 30 days. One important thing to note are unlimited usage plans have
a fair usage policy of 10 GB/month. The absence of an unlimited plan makes this
data card a little less attractive; however Reliance offers great choices in its
existing data card plans. There are nationwide and city specific data card plans
which provide roaming for nation wide plans and extra data limit for city
specific plans.

Tata Indicom — Photon Plus
Tata Indicom launched its 3G data card with Reliance NetConnect during March
last year. It is an upgraded version of Tata Photon Whiz, a wireless service
which provided up to 144 kbps speed (CDMA 1x). Tata Photon+ is currently
available in 11 cities in & around the circles of J & K, Assam & NESA States.

Tariff plans
Cost of the data card itself is RS 3500. There are four plans 1GB, 2GB, 5GB
and 10GB, which cost Rs 150, Rs 250, Rs 500, and Rs 250 (use and pay)
respectively. Free monthly usage is 1GB, 2GB, 5GB and 10GB respectively.
Additional broadband usage charges are Re 0.5/MB and will be applicable within
the validity period. Post paid tariff plans of Tata Photon vary according to
different regions so we collected some attractive plans from the list provided
by TATA Photon Plus website. TATA Photon covers only the major tier-1 cities
and some regions of northeast with 3G speed

Reliance Broadband vs Tata’s Photon+
There’s one important thing to note about data cards. As these data cards
work over wireless connectivity, just like mobile phones, their performance can
vary due to the signal strength. If the network coverage is weak in your area,
then expect a drop in throughput. Another factor is congestion. If there are too
many people using their data cards at the same time, you’re likely to see a
performance degradation. That’s why before you buy a high speed data card,
first check how well it functions in your area.

Results
In order to test the performance of the two data cards we had with us, we
used speedtest.net. This is an online tool to measure broadband speed
connections, and is freely available for anybody to use. The speed test tool
checks the upload and download speeds when you connect to the Internet. The test
allows you to select an Internet host from various locations around the globe
and use it to run the test. We tested the two data cards with a web server
located in Delhi. We used the same machine to run the tests for both data cards.
The tests were run at four different times of the day.

Overall, we found the Reliance Broadband+ giving higher throughput, with the
maximum download and upload speeds going up to 1.9 Mbps and .5 Mbps
respectively. The Photon Plus on the other hand gave maximum download and upload
speeds of .78 and .17 Mbps respectively.

As both Reliance and Tata provide their services in so many cities across the
country, it was physically impossible to test the quality of their data cards
everywhere. That’s why, what we’ve done is plot their performance on an hourly
basis in one location and for one day. The results we’ve published are a
comparison of their performance across the day.

Next-



Choosing The Right Notebook

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