Sierra Compass 885 USB Modem

  • Editors' rating
    7.5 Very good


  • USB connection
  • Small and durable
  • microSD memory expansion slot
  • Automatic software installation
  • Useful utilities


  • SIM card is fiddly to remove
  • No Linux support

If you need to work while you're away from your office or home, then you're almost certain to require mobile broadband: internet connectivity is pretty much essential for useful work these days, and you can't always expect to find a suitable Wi-Fi hot-spot. With a mobile broadband modem such as the Sierra Compass 885, you can access the internet all over the country (and overseas if you like), given suitable coverage from your service provider.

Of course, network coverage is by no means perfect, and connectivity can be a little temperamental at times. But the good news is that mobile broadband services are improving all the time. In a lot of built-up areas the Sierra Compass 885 connects to a 3G network, with download speeds of up to 7.2Mbps (HSDPA) and upload at up to 2Mbps (similar to 8Mbps fixed-line home broadband).

Normally when you sign up to a mobile broadband service, your provider will supply you with a USB dongle or a data card. You may get a modem for free with a contract that’s 18 months long or more. Otherwise you have to pay for your dongle or data card separately. However, the Mac- and Windows-supported Sierra Compass 885 comes unlocked, so you can use it with any network provider's SIM card. So, for instance, if you’re not happy with one provider’s coverage you can swap at any time (you’ll have to honour your existing contract, though, unless you kick up a fuss).

Designed primarily for mobile professionals, the Compass 885 is a USB modem that looks like a typical Flash memory stick. It offers tri-band HSPA/UMTS and quad-band GSM/EDGE support, which ensures compatibility with mobile networks in many countries around the world. The device is rugged enough for everyday on-the-road usage and includes a protective cap to keep the USB port clean. Also in the box is a soft carrying case, a lanyard, a USB extension cable and a clip-on dock.

The driver and software utilities are provided on the modem itself, so you don't need an optical drive on your notebook. There’s even a connector for an external antenna, so if you’re in an area with fringe network coverage you can strengthen your connection.

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Installation is simple and in a minute or two the Compass 885 connects to the internet using the fastest available service — HSDPA, 3G, EDGE, GPRS or GSM respectively. The only niggle is that it's awkward to insert and remove a SIM card, especially as the modem also houses a microSD memory card slot.

Sierra's 3G Watcher application lets you monitor your mobile broadband connection.

The Compass 885 is simplicity itself to manage: a taskbar icon informs you of connection strength; 3G Watcher lets you monitor sent and received data; and there's a program for sending and receiving SMSs from your PC. You can also manage your SIM’s contacts book from your PC and monitor incoming and outgoing calls.

The Sierra Compass 885 USB Modem is easy to install and manage and comes with some useful applications. It worked well for us on O2's and 3's networks in the Midlands, getting an HSDPA link from both service providers. It will work abroad (but check your data roaming charges carefully) and is available SIM-unlocked. It's an excellent choice for mobile professionals who don't want to be tied to a particular service provider.