O2: Sierra Wireless AirCard 850 data card

O2: Sierra Wireless AirCard 850 data card

Step 4: O2: Sierra Wireless AirCard 850 data card
  • Easy installation, excellent GUI interface, no conflict with older cards
  • Antenna looks fragile, no high speed network yet

The O2 Sierra Wireless 850 sneaked in without any problems due to there being no competing drivers on any of the computers we tested it on. The older O2 cards, which are Merlin U530/U630 had real problems, not least with the fact that the drivers on the disk we received didn't work. We did get a working U530 driver from a previous test. The biggest driver clash problem we came across was with cards from T-Mobile and Vodafone. T-Mobile used to ship the U530 and although the O2 installation would complete, it would then be unable to recognise the driver.

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If installed onto a computer where the Vodafone software was installed, the O2 cards would work but the Vodafone software would now have problems. Uninstalling everything meant going to the network stacks and then removing any trace of the Odyssey driver. This is not a user driven action. Luckily, as mentioned, the new Sierra Wireless 850 card doesn't have the problem.

Once installed, the configuration software - 3G Watcher - that comes with the Sierra Wireless 850 was a dream to use. Not only was it simple to configure but you actually got a real reading on what the signal strength was. There are signal bars but you also get a reading in bDm which allows you to make a better judgement of signal strength. You can add in your preferred packages for Internet, Email and VPN and send SMS messages.

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One serious concern with this card is the antenna. It is very thin and although it flexes, it would not take much for it to snap. As it is such a new product, there is no price available from O2 for a replacement antenna.

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O2 do not have an HSDPA network at this moment in time so the speeds are quite low compared to Vodafone and T-Mobile. They are also low compared to Orange who also lacks an HSDPA network and this was surprising. This card does not provide wireless LAN support.

While not blindingly fast it was a good steady performance and if you wanted to be sure of getting a connection, this card does it.

Futures O2 will be moving to HSDPA in early 2007. This card will not only support the current speed of 1.8Mbps but will support a field upgrade to 3.6Mbps and 7.2Mbps as such services are made available. There is space inside the card memory for O2 to add new features, one of which will be to turn on the voice port on the side of the computer. At the moment, O2 has no date set for this to take place.

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This was an easy card to install and worked first time. As it is new to O2 it comes without the baggage and installation problems of the older Merlin cards. This is a serious bonus for O2 customers.

In January, O2 will be offering a new antenna with this card which should give even better performance.

Conclusion This is a good card with an easy setup, solid performance and good application reliability. When O2 turns on its HSDPA network next year speed should be comparable with T-Mobile and Vodafone and with O2's connection reliability, this is a card worth looking at.

Verdict

Easy to install, lots of future features such as the voice port but needs an HSDPA network to make it really fly.

Windows XP, 2000 PCMCIA Type II slot 32MB RAM

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