1. USE A USB CABLE
Don’t plug your dongle straight into your laptop, use the USB cable that’s supplied. Not only does this reduce the impact of electrical interference from your PC (from your Wi-Fi radio, for example), it also gives you the flexibility to position the dongle for maximum reception. Merely changing the orientation of a USB modem can boost signal strength, potentially adding crucial extra bandwidth.
2. BUY AN UNLOCKED MODEM
Modems may be cheaper when you buy them from a specific mobile network, but that of course means you’re tied to that specific provider. Instead, consider buying an unlocked modem and carrying around a selection of pay-as-you-go SIM cards.
Standalone modems aren’t ludicrously expensive: you can buy a 7.2Mbits/sec Huawei E1750 modem for £90 from Expansys.com, for example. The networks literally give away the SIM cards for free, or charge a nominal fee for them, so there’s nothing to stop you getting a SIM card for every UK network.A selection of SIM cards is particularly useful for those who spend much of their lives on the road, as the gaps in one company’s 3G network may be filled by another provider. Remember that T-Mobile and 3 share some of their same 3G network, and Virgin Media’s service runs off T-Mobile’s network, so there’s little point in doubling up with these providers.
3. SWITCH TO OPEN DNS
The DNS servers used by the mobile broadband networks “tend to be pretty patchy,” according to PC Pro’s wireless and mobile expert, Paul Ockenden. That could mean DNS look-ups take longer than need be, or web addresses fail to resolve at all. Try a free alternative such as OpenDNS if you notice a delay in websites loading despite a strong signal.
4. TETHER YOUR PHONE
Those who struggle to get a decent 3G connection indoors may be better off avoiding USB dongles and tethering their PC to their smartphone. This allows you to place the mobile handset on a window sill, where it has more chance of picking up a decent signal, without having to awkwardly shuffle your furniture around so your desk is near the window.
Alternatively, consider buying a mobile Wi-Fi router. Both 3 and T-Mobile sell excellent 3G Wi-Fi routers that allow you to plug in your dongle and broadcast the 3G signal to other rooms in the house, as well as share the connection among multiple PCs/devices. The portable MiFi router (web ID: 351289) sold by 3 and others could perform a similar function.
5. CHANGE YOUR APN
Mobile networks assign different APNs (Access Point Names) to customers on regular monthly contracts and pay-as-you-go deals. We have it on good authority that some mobile networks give priority to the more lucrative, contract customers, rewarding their loyal custom with marginally improved bandwidth. If you’re determined to get every last kilobit per second out of your connection, it may be worth considering signing up for a long-term deal with one of the fast networks, such as Vodafone, T-Mobile or 3.