Mobile data coverage

I should point out right at the start of this that I rarely use a mobile phone (I have one supplied by my employer for work but it is a very basic phone and I keep it turned off most of the time, using it only to phone back to the office — typically when abroad.  I don’t think it can be used for internet access or anything fancy).  I don’t have a personal mobile phone.

When I bought my iPad i got the 3G model together with a micro SIM for O2 in the UK.   The thinking was that the O2 data connection can be set up on the iPad itself without having to make phone calls or enter in to contracts, and the cost is quite reasonable.  There is a £2 for 24 hours (limited to 500MB bandwidth) option and other more expensive options for 30 day periods with either 1GB or 3GB allowances for the 30 days.   They all come with free wi-fi for the corresponding period at O2 hotspots.  Given the often very expensive charge for a Wi-Fi connection in many hotels I thought it would be useful (at least in the UK when travelling).  I have used it a few times now at airports where the Wi-Fi is expensive (and where the frequent flyer lounge doesn’t offer free Wi-Fi) and it has worked well.

Recently I tried using it while travelling in a taxi on the M42 and M5 south.  This was not such a pleasant experience.   Given all of the hype around the connectedness of mobile phones and the like I was somewhat surprised that it was practically impossible to do anything useful on the iPad while travelling in the back of a taxi — and this wasn’t because of any rough ride. Actually getting a connection to O2 to buy access took probably 10 miles of travel.    For most of the journey there was very little data connectivity and when there was it was mostly EDGE rather than 3G.  In fact the coverage basically seemed to extend for a short distance around motorway junctions with virtually nothing in between.   Certainly it would not be much use for using any GPS application that required a data connection.   (Although provided you don’t want directions but just use the iPad as a replace for a road atlas MotionX GPS HD is very good and doesn’t require a data connection provided you download the OpenStreetMap tiles ahead of time.)  I don’t know whether the reception is any better on the UK railways; perhaps I’ll find out soon.


Leave a Reply