This is actually a combined review of O2 and Vodafone Ireland mobile broadband services since I tested them in parallel. Neither is a replacement for fixed-line BB but in certain situations, the O2 modem is extremely fast and was my winner overall.

I’ve railed against both O2 and Voda on repeated occasions for not offering decent value proper data plans on phones. I’ve also read a wide variety of opinions on the various mobile broadband offferings with Three getting the most abuse. In order to find out for myself I signed up for both O2 and Voda’s dongles on the same day.

They are both Huawei devices with the O2 one being the more modern E270. I believe the only major difference is that the E270 supports HSUPA (7.2 Mbs) out of the box but the Voda one has to be upgraded.

I ran a variety of tests over the two weeks of the Vodafone trial period (O2 offers 30 day trial). They both had pros and cons as follows:

  • You can get 7.2Mbs on O2 in a variety of locations including parts of the Cork-Dublin train line
  • There are far fewer delays on O2 when doing streaming media like Qik
  • Both work well as a SIM in an N95-8GB phone
  • Throughput on O2 was better when I tested both using a co-located mast in Bandon Garda station
  • Bittorrent works on O2 :-)
  • I cannot get a HSDPA signal on O2 where I live in Bandon (but I can on Vodafone)
  • Both offer half price three month deals
  • Voda dongle is cheaper
  • O2 seems to have better coverage in general on Cork-Dublin line and can fall-back to EDGE speeds before falling further. However overall coverage on both is terrible on that line, particularly in North Tipperary
  • Both have patchy coverage in general and both suffer from congestion. I can get very high speeds in Bishopstown at 7.30am but quite poor speeds at 1pm in Emmet Place.
  • Remember that coverage stats are based on population not land area so large swathes of rural Ireland have no 3G let alone 3.5G
  • I happily sat in the Epicurean Foodhall in Dublin today with laptop connected at 7.2MBs and its performance was not that noticeably slower than many wifi hotspots I’ve used

In the end I chose the O2 modem due to the higher HSUPA speed in many urban settings and better throughput in most of my tests. The PC software is less clunky too. I returned the Vodafone dongle and got a full refund.

I recently did some bandwidth testing on the Cork-Dublin line using iperf on a laptop and GPS on the N95. Whenever I get around to merging the two datasets I’ll publish the findings on Google Maps.