Three Internet Key: hassle free mobile internet

It wasn’t so long ago that mobile access to the internet involved some sort of black magic and animal sacrifice. Thankfully times have changed and it’s become almost trivially easy to get up and running with mobile internet. Three’s Internet Key makes it even simpler with a sleek device that doesn’t require a driver CD – all the required software is included on the device.

The Internet Key is a re-badged Huawei E169G. Unlike its predecessor E220 the E169G doesn’t require a USB cable to connect to your computer or dangle off to the side. The Internet Key looks like a run of the mill USB memory stick with a SIM card securely pushed into a camouflaged slot near the connector.

Installation of the Internet Key begins when you insert the device into a USB port on your PC or Mac. On both platforms a window appears with a link to the software which is stored within flash memory in the device. Given the move to sub-notebooks that sometimes lack optical drives this makes set up pain free. We installed the Internet Key to a Toshiba Portege R500 Apple MacBook and a MacBook Pro with no problems. In each case when the device is inserted the appropriate network devices are automatically created.

Windows users are at an advantage over Mac users with the Internet Key. The connection software for that platform allows you to send SMS from your computer via the Internet Key. This can use the address book on your computer as well as numbers stored on the SIM. Mac users get a more basic connection client that doesn’t offer this extra functionality. Both platforms keep tabs on traffic so you can check your bill each month.

The proof of the mobile internet pudding is in the eating. We tested the Internet Key from a fixed location in the Melbourne CBD and while on a train. Connections as long as we were in Three’s coverage area were established in a few seconds and we didn’t experience any drop outs. Connections speed measured using the broadband speedtest (www.speedtest.net) were rated at about the 1000Kb/s mark. While that’s not express we found it more than adequate for email web browsing and some downloads. Upload speeds ranged from the high 200s to low 300s. Again this was quite reasonable in our view and superior to what some users see with entry-level ADSL plans. By comparison we found that this was about 10% faster than the Three NetConnect ExpressCard tested by APC recently. It’s worth remembering that Three is augmenting its network so that it’ll deliver up to 7.2Mb/s. The Interent Key will support those higher speeds.

Three’s network coverage is very good within and around the major Australian capital cities. However if you venture to more rural areas the connection roams onto Telstra’s GPRS network. When this happens the LED on the Internet Key glows green instead of the usual blue providing a visual cue. This is important as roaming to Telstra’s network incurs extra charges. However the connection software for both Macs and Windows allow you to limit connections so that roaming to Telstra’s network is disabled. Given that the roaming charges are $1.65 per MB we’d suggest using that option unless you want to receive a nasty surprise on your bill.

Three’s Internet Key gives its service a great boost. Performance testing suggests that the Internet Key has superior signal reception to the Express Card unit and the all-in-one design is far more elegant than the “soap on a rope” USB modems that are common with many mobile ISPs. For mobile internet users in urban areas Three’s service is definitely worth a look although the roaming charges for those planning to use the Internet Key outside the city may make it a less attractive option.