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3G modems that connect to your notebook via USB are nothing new, but Orange's <a href="http://www.business.orange.co.uk/servlet/Satellite?pagename=Business&c=OUKDevice&cid=1044136297758">Orange's Option ICON2</a> is different not only in looks but also in its support of 7.2Mbps connections. Should you get excited about the high speed? Only if you don’t mind buying now in order to reap the benefits in the future.
Will connect at 7.2Mbps when the technology is rolled out
Some notebook users may have to connect via the USB extension cable due to the modem's bulk
Not the most stylish design
7.2Mbps connectivity is not yet available from Orange
3G modems that connect to your notebook via USB are nothing new, but Orange's Orange's Option ICON2 is different not only in looks but also in its support of 7.2Mbps connections. Should you get excited about the high speed? Only if you don’t mind buying now in order to reap the benefits in the future.
We have previously looked at USB 3G modems from from Vodafone and T-Mobile, so how does Orange's latest offering compare? The Orange modem is available on three single-user plans: Unlimited, Traveller and Daily, with other price plans available for groups. The Unlimited tariff costs £25 per month, with the modem costing £70, £20 or free, depending whether you take a 12-, 18- or 24-month contract. The Traveller plan costs £45 per month with up to 15MB of roaming data, and the modem is free. Both these plans also get you 250 Wi-Fi minutes. To use the Daily plan, you must buy the modem for £115, and pay £7 per day; this also gets 60 minutes of Wi-Fi. Extra Wi-Fi minutes cost 8p each.
A fair use policy applies. Unlimited and Traveller contracts are limited to 3GB a month, while Daily users get 1GB per day.
This modem isn't going to win any prizes for looks. It's enormous when compared to the Huawei model we saw from Vodafone and T-Mobile, and far less pretty to look at. The Option ICON2 measures 46mm wide by 103mm tall by 14mm thick. In fact it isn’t much smaller than a mobile phone.
The casing is black apart from a large Orange logo; it's made of plastic and feels fairly lightweight, although the modem's build quality seems solid enough. The SIM fits into a slot on one of the long edges of the device; the slot is unprotected by a cover, so the edge of the SIM is visible (it doesn't protrude though).
A single bright white LED light blinks to indicate levels of status while trying to connect, and stays permanently illuminated when a connection is made.
The modem can slot directly into an available USB port, although its size could cause problems in some cases. There's about 17mm of casing either side of the USB connector, which means that if your computer has two USB slots either side by side or vertically stacked, and one is already occupied, you won’t be able to use the adjacent slot. Similarly, this device will block access to a free adjacent slot.
The alternative is to use the supplied USB extension cable. This is just 33cm long, making it easy for notebook users to carry around. If you intend to use the modem with a desktop computer you may find this cable too short to allow the modem to sit on your desk while it's in use, though.
The Option ICON2 is supplied in a DVD-style case, and comes with a printed manual along with the aforementioned extension cable.
Features & performance
The Orange Option ICON2 USB Modem supports Windows XP with SP1 and SP 2, Windows XP Tablet PC 2005 with SP2, Windows Vista and Windows 2000 with SP4 as well as Mac OS X.
It's a plug-and-play device, so all the required software self-installs when you plug in the modem. We tried it on a new Windows Vista computer, and it installed and ran first time. Even allowing for Vista’s annoying checks that we really did want to run the modem software, installation took less than a minute. We were similarly impressed with connection speed, which typically took less than ten seconds during testing.
When the software is installed, you simply click the ‘Connect’ button and the modem gets online.
The software is relatively unsophisticated. It incorporates an SMS center, where you can manage text messages. But that's all. You can’t check on data usage within it, which means you can’t find out how close you are to overstepping Orange’s fair usage limits — or indeed any other limits that may be imposed by your employer. Nor can you set the modem to connect automatically when you plug it in: connections must be made manually.
The real selling point of this modem is its support for 7.2Mbps operation. It will connect at the highest speed available, dropping down to GPRS if necessary. But if you're expecting 7.2Mbps connections from Orange anytime soon, you may be in for a disappointment. When we asked, we got the following statement:
"Orange is continually looking at ways to improve its network and offer faster speeds to customers. In 2008, the plan is to offer speeds of up to 7.2Mbps in the UK’s top 5 cities, focusing on business areas, before rolling-out to the rest of the UK. We currently have 94 percent 3G coverage of the UK outdoor population, and are in the process of upgrading the 3G downlink speeds to 3.6Mbps."
So if you live in a ‘top 5 city’ then 7.2Mbps could come your way fairly soon, but elsewhere you'll have to wait.
This is a far less stylish modem than the Vodafone and T-Mobile offerings we mentioned earlier, and the desktop software is short on features. On the plus side, the software installed quickly and efficiently, it connected to the 3G network quickly, and the modem functioned flawlessly during testing. If you want a 3G modem for today that's ready for 7.2Mbps tomorrow (or the next day). then the Orange Option ICON2 USB Modem seems like a good choice.