One of Vodafone's catchy taglines for its Vodafaone Mobile Connect service says that it "makes mobile working work".
As you would have guessed, Vodafone Mobile Connect is targeted at the Australian business folk who own a notebook, and who want to be connected to the outside world while using it - wherever they are.
Vodafone sees this convenience as an important extension to the tools, if you like, employed by the savvy business user. Additionally, it believes this product will be seriously considered as a substitution for ADSL broadband.
That's the big picture. The real picture is the service, naturally, is best utulised when users are working within 3G areas. This is when users can get peak download speeds of 384Kbps (and maximum upload speeds of 64Kbps). The reality, however, is that this can only be achieved in areas already serviced by Vodafone's 3G network -- currently only metropolitan Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, as well as all the major international airports in Australia. Other capital cities will follow this year.
However, while the 3G roll out is expanding, it means users that have a tendency to roam beyond these precincts will drop out of the 3G zone, and into its GPRS network which covers 92 per cent "of the places you live and work in Australia". Although the transition to GPRS is seamless, the drop in speed is noticeable. Thankfully, dropping in speed is better than dropping out.
A major positive for the Vodafone service is it is truly mobile. Just as you expect to drive or ride a train and not have a phone conversation drop out, the same applies for the Vodafone data service. Naturally, the connection dies in tunnels. We also found in our trial, which was held in metropolitan Sydney, that it did not like traveling on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Perhaps it is all that steel?
So what exactly does the business user get with VMC? The service allows the user to access the Internet using their default browser, email, using either their default mail application or a Web-based mail service, and VPN. It also allows users send text and multimedia messages.
Installing the VMC software is a simple process and takes less then 5 minutes. The minimum system requirements for PCs is Windows 2000 (SP2 and above) and XP Home and Professional, a Type II PC card slot with cardbus interface; 32 MB RAM minimum, although 64 MB is better, and a WLAN-enabled laptop.
Once the software is installed the user places their SIM card into the 3G data card. When that is inserted into the notebook it takes about a minute to establish a connection and then it is ready to use. Options allow users to automatically login to the network when their notebook is switched or to do it manually.
Because you have full use of your keyboard SMSes are easy to send. Messages can be saved either on the SIM or the VMC software on the notebook. Deleting SMSes off the SIM was a tricky process on some occasions. While the SMSes were deleted, the next time we logged on they appeared again. A second attempt to remove them worked.
When buying the VMC card, users can choose a monthly package depending on their estimated usage. Packages come in three flavours: Data 100 $29.95 100MB .2c KB; Data 300 $49.95 300MB .2 c KB; Data Unlimited $99.95. For the Limited users, the VMC console provides detailed usage information so you don't unwittingly download more than expected.
Considering that many business users are prone to travel, Vodafone has roaming arrangements with overseas networks. As part of its global 3G network reach, it offers users 16 international 3G roaming destinations plus network agreements with up to 200 operators around the world that will enable access to these available GPRS networks. Although data rates abroad are much higher, it still means users can work while away.
There are a few things to take note of. Because VMC uses an image compression algorithm in order to load pages quicker, you will notice images are slightly more pixilated than on a fixed broadband package.
Users should be aware that on rainy or cloudy days, reception can drop a few bars. The VMC console shows on your notebook five reception bars. It was not uncommon on these days to get one or no bars. However, the connection, while slower, did not drop out.
So much is said of wireless technology these days it is easy to get overwhelmed by it. Whatever the case, Vodafone's Mobile Connect is a powerful product that will change the way you work. And for the better.
Vodafone Mobile Connect
RRP: $299 for data card. Users can choose from three packaged deals: Data 100 $29.95 100MB .2c KB; Data 300 $49.95 300MB .2c KB; Data Unlimited $99.95.