Mobile broadband, or rather HSPA (High speed packet access) has recently become a fairly popular way to connect to the internet, although In my opinion it’s not quite a rival for fixed broadband due to the low usage limits, and the speeds.

Either way Mobile networks are selling USB dongles for access by the bucket-loads, and they’re good for a certian purpose, although just how mobile they are really depends on how you use them.

I personally find that trying to use a HSPA dongle on a train for instance is rather hit and miss, the connection will drop several times throughout the journey, and in some cases it’s not even worth bothering.

I find the worst offending route that I semi-regularly use is from Waterloo heading south (covered by S.W.T)  Generally unless you want to hop on for long enough to fire off an email it’s probably not worth bothering as the connection will often drop shortly after connecting.

I’ve tried several networks so far and whist some are better than others it’s just not worth browsing whist travelling this route as you’ll spend more time trying to reconnect than actually doing anything meaningful. (Feel free to disagree, maybe it’s just my equipment, but that’s my experience anyway)

However the route between Reading and Paddington (operated by FGW) seems to be a lot better for mobile broadband, you will still get dropouts but no where near as many and it’s usually possible to maintan a connection long enough to actually do a bit of surfing.

Am I annoyed at this, well perhaps a little at the time.  Is it worth complaining to the mobile operator, probably not.

The reason is; The mobile network is wireless (Duh!) and we all know how variable wireless can be, data connections are also a lot more demanding than voice since a voice call using GSM compression will fit into 9.6kps (If i remember correctly, any telecoms engineers reading this feel free to correct me), try loading facebook with that bandwidth you’d be there for ages and then some.

Then if your on a train, your moving at high speed, this produces extra complexity for the network after all you’re probably not in the same place you were when you sent the request for the page, you may not even be on the same cell tower anymore.  The network has in the meantime handed you over to the next base station….

That is of course if there is a next base station, if there isn’t then this is likely to explain why the connection dropped.  In an ideal world the operators would be able to cover 100% of the route, unfortantly this isn’t an easy job, the operator has to get planning permission to build new masts and then even if they get that permission they still have to get some backhaul there (A mobile mast that’s not connected to anything would be pretty useless).

The cellular masts and the equipment required for them to operate isn’t cheap therefore if you’re passing though a largely unpopulated area then that may also explain the lack of coverage, after all the mobile operator isn’t going to spend a fortune putting new infrastructure in if hardly anyone is going to use it, and I can’t see everyone willing to pay a lot more on their bills so some of us can browse the interwebz on the train without interuption ;(

The geography of an area will often also determine the range and performance of a mobile network, hills can be a problem as can valleys and tunnels.