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Old 01.11.2011, 10:52
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Thoughts on Prepaid Mobile Broadband

Hi all,

When my wife and I moved into our new apartment, there was a bit of a mixup with Cablecom, and the service would not be enabled for a few weeks. This was hardly a problem for the first week or so, particularly as I was at the university every day, and so could get online there. My wife, however, was not pleased with having to travel down to the university just to check her email.

Thus, I did a bit of research on mobile broadband, and thought that people here might find it useful. We weren't interested in a long-term subscription, so I only did some research on prepaid service. Of course, I always welcome additional input and experiences from people, so please feel free to reply!

M-Budget/Swisscom
Migros has a "virtual" mobile phone service called "M-Budget" that runs on Swisscom's network. In addition to ordinary phones, they also sell USB mobile broadband modems (the Huawei E173, at the time of this post) and service. For CHF 40, they'll sell you the modem, a SIM card, and CHF 15 worth of credit. They charge CHF 0.10/MB, so that's 150MB worth of data. Unfortunately, that goes pretty quick these days. It's also rate-limited by the network to 512kbps, which helps control costs, but is also a bit slow.

While the M-Budget modem is SIM-locked to M-Budget forever, it turns out that M-Budget SIMs are essentially Swisscom cards with some cosmetic differences -- if one purchases a prepaid Swisscom NATEL SIM, it should work with no problem in the modem. For CHF 20, one can a Swisscom SIM card with CHF 20 worth of credit. I've found the NATEL easy BeFree prepaid plan to be quite reasonable: CHF 4/day for each day that you use data service. (For CHF 3/day and CHF 4/day, respectively, one can also get unlimited SMS and phone calls to all Swiss fixed and mobile phones with the easy BeFree plan, but I digress.)

Speeds on Swisscom, using the M-Budget modem, are not rate-limited. I was getting the full 7.2Mbps that the modem supports. Only caveat: Swisscom has a 2GB/month limit, after which they reduce your speeds to a painful 64kbps (barely faster than dial-up).

Sunrise
Sunrise also offers inexpensive prepaid data plans, in the form of their Sunrise go dayflat offering. For CHF 1/day that you use data service, they offer around 2-3Mbps speeds, with no monthly limit (I specifically asked the salesman if there was a monthly limit, and he said no. In addition, there is nothing in the terms and conditions mentioning a monthly limit.). Reasonable speed, and quite a bit cheaper than Swisscom.

For the price, this seems to be the best deal around.

They also offer SIM-locked modems (an Alcatel model that I don't recall) for CHF 50.

Orange
I did not investigate Orange. Comments from others are welcome.

Unlocked Modems
Naturally, both of these services work fine with unlocked modems. As an aside, it's quite easy to unlock Huawei modems, so that they'll work on any provider.

Comments
All of the plans listed I mentioned, with the exception of the M-Budget data plan, are intended for use in a mobile phone rather than a modem. Nevertheless, they work just fine in broadband modems. I've had no problems using my modem with any of the plans mentioned above.

Windows 7 and modern Linux distributions (I have no experience with recent Mac OS X systems) can interact with mobile broadband modems directly, without the need for the third-party management software included with the modem. Of course, one needs the drivers (included with the software), but I've found that one can extract the drivers from the installer, so one doesn't need to actually install the management software.

Swisscom and Sunrise have extensive coverage in Bern; the only coverage issues I've had have been in the deep, concrete basements in the lab, where the modem switched from 3G to EDGE -- it continued to work, but slowly.

Since both Sunrise and Swisscom shops are available in major travel centers (train stations, airports, etc.) and it's quite easy to get the appropriate SIM card (and modem, if needed), I hope this can be useful for travelers in Switzerland for only a short time, as well as for people here for a longer time.

Disclaimer
I have no interest, financial or otherwise, in any of the companies or services mentioned, except as a customer of the prepaid services described. I represent only myself.
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Old 01.11.2011, 13:13
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Re: Thoughts on Prepaid Mobile Broadband

Thank you for sharing your research ... wonderful work.

For Sunrise, in addition to the chf 1/day offer - which is ideal for occasional use (such as visitors form overseas, or the odd day when I am not near my laptop), they also offer a very reasonable monthly plan. chf 7.50 buys you a 250MB plan valid for a month - not a lot of data, but quite sufficient for checking my email on the go, or for a bit of surfing for maps, directions, time tables etc...
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Old 01.11.2011, 14:18
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Re: Thoughts on Prepaid Mobile Broadband

Quote:
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Thank you for sharing your research ... wonderful work.

For Sunrise, in addition to the chf 1/day offer - which is ideal for occasional use (such as visitors form overseas, or the odd day when I am not near my laptop), they also offer a very reasonable monthly plan. chf 7.50 buys you a 250MB plan valid for a month - not a lot of data, but quite sufficient for checking my email on the go, or for a bit of surfing for maps, directions, time tables etc...
You're most welcome!

I considered that plan as well, but I blew through the 2GB/month limit on Swisscom in two days (hence my trying out the cheaper, somewhat slower, but not-limited Sunrise). Lesson learned: if a computer has been offline for months due to being moved, doing Windows Updates on mobile broadband can be bad.

In general, my use for mobile broadband is intermittent (though bandwidth-heavy): a backup connection in case my wired connection is down, and also for connecting when away from the apartment or university, so the prepaid plans that charge only on the days one uses the service made a lot of sense for me. Naturally, your mileage may vary.
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