Posted Under: Living Aboard, Marinas, Technology
Up until now - over a year of living aboard Miley - we have been using the marina’s BT Openzone Wi-Fi connection for all of our internet needs. Well, I say ‘have been using’ and ‘all of our internet needs’. But really, that’s lying.
Really, really, pants. More pants than the pair of my underwear that has somehow been on our foredeck for the past god-knows-how-long.
If you’re lucky enough to even be able to logon to the service - normally only a possibility at high tide - you’ll be waiting a la 56k dial-up for web pages to load. YouTube? BBC iPlayer? BT Openzone has never heard of photos, let alone video streaming. Even browsing friends’ photos on Facebook is normally impossible, let alone uploading our own. This explains the lack of photos on this blog; we have to wait ’til we visit our parents, with their cable broadband, to do such advanced things as uploading photos. And this in 2010!
So what to do?
The first part of the decision was easy. We pretty much had two options:
- Buy a Wi-Fi range extender, such as 5milewifi (costs a few hundred £ to import from the US), which would enable us to connect to other, better, Wi-Fi networks in the area - such as Oceanwave at the marina next door. We would then need to sign up to this Wi-Fi service, which costs:
- £5 for 1 day
- £15 for 1 month
- £30 for 3 months
- £110 for 1 year
- Choose a 3G mobile broadband dongle. Either pay-as-you-go or contract, prices are around £15/month for 3GB data. Plug it straight into our laptops, and wherever we have mobile network coverage, we would have the internet.
Straight away, the upfront cost of a Wi-Fi range extender/aerial booster writes Option 1 off for us. We simply can’t afford to spend a few hundred pounds on top of the cost of the actual Wi-Fi service. It’s a shame, as benefits include being able to pickup Wi-Fi networks whilst at anchor close to the shore. Signing up to next door’s Oceanwave Wi-Fi also meant we’d be able to logon to that network whenever we visited a marina that also had Oceanwave; but signing up to the cheapest option, a 1-year contract, would be a tie that we don’t want.
So, what about a 3G mobile broadband dongle? Well… it seemed perfect. Quite simply, it means we would be able to access the internet wherever we have mobile coverage for the network we choose - and for the majority of our sailing at the moment, we are nearly always close enough to the shore to receive good coverage, so not only would we be able to use the internet in harbour, but we could check the weather whilst out for a jolly and anchored for lunch (hah, take that, expensive 5milewifi). And we could use it in all the marinas we go to, not just the ones with the same Wi-Fi service. Not only are dongles useful for onboard, but give us internet access when travelling in the car, away on business etc.
Our decision was made. 3G dongle was the way forward. But now came the hard part: which network? Which tariff? Pay-as-you-go or contract?
Looking around, it seemed there wasn’t much competition between networks. All of the major networks now offer mobile broadband - O2, 3, Vodafone, T-Mobile, Orange. All of them showed as providing a good signal where we are currently moored. So how to choose?
We decided that we didn’t want to sign up to a 12/18 month contract: we don’t know what we will be doing that far ahead into the future. But pay-as-you-go is not very convenient and works out more expensive than a contract.
I stumbled across an option that gave us the compromise we were after: a rolling one-month contract, with the convenience of a direct debit, and the freedom to cancel with 30-days’ notice. Most of the networks offer these one-month plans. Prices for 3GB of data transfer are the same across the board at £15/month for 3GB data, but the upfront cost of the dongle varies: it’s £9.99 from 3, but an expensive £29 from Orange. However this may be irrelevent, and your choice easy, if you know that Orange has much better coverage than 3 in your marina (if you have a good 3G mobile signal from that network, their mobile broadband signal will also be good, and vice versa).
For us - fairly heavy internet users but not ones to sit on YouTube for hours - 3GB seemed like not enough data, but the 10GB of data that O2 and Orange offer at £30 and £25 respectively is a bit expensive for us.
I dug a little deeper and found a 3 one-month contract offering 5GB data for £15 a month - the same price as their 3GB tariff! The catch was, you had to buy it with their MiFi device, a brilliant little gadget that receives the mobile broadband signal then sends it out as a Wi-Fi signal to devices within a 10m range - meaning James and I could connect to the internet at the same time onboard, wirelessly. Sounds great, but as it is locked to 3’s network, we would like to try the network in our home berth before committing to that. Maybe we would have to stump up for a 10GB plan after all.
A few days later, whilst visiting my parents in Guildford, I popped into the 3 Store. I asked if I could sign up to the one-month contract as ‘SIM only’ - not paying £49.99 for the MiFi unit as well. They can hardly say no to “Hello, I want to give you money!” and I walked out of the shop with my mobile broadband £15/5GB SIM card, ready to plug into the 3 dongle my granddad had previously given me.
I was very happy. I felt like I had beaten the system. But I was also very scared that the coverage might be pants, and grateful for the 14-day money back guarantee if you find out you don’t have decent coverage (make sure you purchase it from a 3 store, as Carphone Warehouse knock this down to three days). Similarly O2 give you a ‘30-Day Happiness Guarantee’.
So was the coverage any good, or did I have to take up 3’s return guarantee and opt for a different network?
Well, you can probably answer this for yourself. Have you noticed the increase in photos on our blog recently? And if you’re a Facebook friend, the increase of my photos on there?
It’s bloody brilliant.
But now I feel bad.
3 have found their loophole, and no longer offer 5GB for £15. But be cheeky: phone them up and say something along the lines of:
“Hello, I want to give you £15 a month.”
“Really, madam? OK… so which phone would you like?”
“Oh, I don’t want a phone. I would like to sign up to your excellent mobile broadband package that I have heard rave reviews about. But I would like the same offer that my friend received only a matter of weeks ago.”
“What was that, madam? I’m sure we can give you a good deal.”
“She is on a one-month mobile broadband contract and receives 5GB of data for £15 a month.”
“I’m sorry madam, but we don’t offer that contract anymore.”
“Well, that’s a shame. I was hoping you would live up to the brilliant things I have heard about your service from my friends, but I shall have to go back and tell them you are not as good as we all thought. I will give O2, or Orange, or Vodafone my £15 a month instead, and recommend them to my friends over you.”
“Well, I’ve very sorry, but I can’t authorise deviations from our set tariffs.”
“May I speak to your manager?”
[transfers call to manager]
“Hello, how may I help?”
“Ah yes, hello. I was just trying to give your company £15 a month, for the same service my friend receives and recommended to me, but your colleague refused to take my money and instead I shall have to go to another network.”
“I’m sure that’s not the case, madam. Let me see what I can do for you…”
And you put the phone down £15 a month lighter, 5GB a month heavier. Go on, try it, it’ll be fun and they’d be crazy to say no.
P.S. If they do say no, I’d go for Orange’s 12-month contract at £18/month for 3GB data - yes, £3 more, but you’re allowed unlimited data usage between 00:00 and 09:00. This is perfect for leaving your laptop to download, err, programs from BBC iPlayer overnight without eating into your data. The dongle is free.