Friday, 31 July 2009

The Danger of Dongles

What 5gb of data looks like for an average user
Please click for larger image

Well I was going to work on something else today and not blog because it is the last day of the month and I have already exceeded my fair usage of 5gb with Vodafone. In fact I have exceeded by 11gb to a total of 16gb.

What am I talking about? I am talking about the price plans available for people who have to connect to the internet via their laptops and connect with what they in the trade call "dongles" - technically speaking the term is incorrect but the meaning of words change over time.

Well there is a very good article on the dangers of using dongles here in the telegraph that shows that some users who exceed the data limits can face charges of up to £200 for every extra gigabyte they download, so I figured I had better warn those of you who are thinking of switching to mobile broadband.
The charges imposed for exceeding these limits vary greatly. 3 imposes the next highest fee of £102 per additional 1GB, moneysupermarket said, although the network would disconnect the service once the charge had reached £50. O2 and 3 both sent a text to alert the user when the limit was reached, it added.

Vodafone, Virgin and Orange impose much lower charges, of £15, £14.95 and £14.64 per GB respectively
Now for some background. As one of the first to use mobile connections and as a user who has no other options but to use mobile connection to the internet, I think I can speak with some authority on the subject.

I have been with Vodafone for many years and am generally happy with the service. When I first took out a mobile connection contract, the monthly charge on top of my mobile phone was an extra £56 per month plus vat. Extremely painful for someone on a really low fixed income.

But I could take the pain and by making cut backs just about manage. The occasional donation from Friends of the Green Arrow always helped (and I truly appreciate all those who have helped keep the Green Machine rolling) and somehow I could always pay my way.

At least for the £56 I was getting unlimited download as agreed when I signed the original contract. In fact I paid no attention to my usage until earlier this year when Vodafone without notification changed the terms on mobile connections.

Calling in to the Vodafone shop to replace a burnt out dongle, I was informed that my plan had changed and I was now paying £25 per month and given a faster "dongle". Great stuff I thought. I have an extra £26 per month to buy silly things like food and clothes etc.

Then the grenade landed and exploded when the next on-line Vodafone bill arrived and I quickly discovered the meaning of what service providers call "fair usage".

A quick download of the complete bill revealed that I had lost my unlimited download and was now capped at 5gb per month, with charges of £15 for every extra gb I downloaded or uploaded.

Well round about that time, I added the status of the site next to the Donate Button and I struggled on. Over the next 4 bills I discovered that I burn up 5gb of data in about 8 days.

Now 5gb should be more than enough for an average user but I am not an average user. I am not even a power user. I am a MEGA consumer of data - I eat it up like a pig eating potatoes. My appetite for information is boundless as is my need to view dozens of images and videos submitted and sent in every day. I must miss nothing if I am to do my job.

Checking with Vodafone I find that I am already on the highest download plan available. I long for the days when I paid £56 and their statement for "heavy users" taken from here that says:
With our clear and simple pricing, you'll know exactly how much it's going to cost you each month. And don't worry if you go over the 5GB limit - it's just £15 for every additional GB you use.
Don't worry? When you go over by 10gb every month it is more than a worry, it is a threat to your very survival as a blogger. More pain - more sacrifices. A car that can go nowhere until they find a way to make it run on fresh air, meetings missed, membership not renewed on time so membership becomes broken, events unattended.

Well whilst I can recommend Vodafone for your average user, I understand that Orange offers a similar package for £34.25 but does allow you to "bundle" another 5gb for an extra £20 per month.

So what was the purpose of this article? Not to plead poverty again but to make you aware of the dangers of dongles.

I am pleased to say that hopefully within a few weeks or months my personal connection problems will be resolved and I will be able to eat all the data I need without worrying about that damned warning box popping up and punching me between the eyes every time I connect to the net.