Broadband on the move: free Wi-Fi vs 3G

After leaving McDonald's, Fraser was ready for his next challenge, but this time things weren't going to be so easy. This time he'd have to check his email, find an online web gallery of photographs and choose the ones we'd need for the magazine, all within just one hour.

"As I got the call I referred to my hotspots list and found a nearby pub that was listed as a free Wi-Fi hotspot. I wandered off to find it, but when I got there it was a paid-for-only connection and I didn't have the inclination to start a subscription," Fraser said.


THE CATCH: Fraser could use the free Wi-Fi as long as he bought drinks

Fraser was now too far away from any of his other options, and with no connection to check the internet for more, he set about trying to find a pub with an available connection, walking around town, looking in windows for signs of a free connection, but he couldn't find an available network.

"The phone went again, and the voice at the end was getting increasingly impatient, and I was worried that I'd have to head back to the office and admit defeat. As I turned the corner the most unlikely pub had a free Wi-Fi sign in its window, and I ran in to buy a drink and use its network. It was an Olde Worlde pub that catered for travellers, and they had a free connection for their patrons."

"I quickly set about getting to work, and realised that this was going to be a long session, so it was lucky that this network wasn't one of the timed ones, which is dependant on how much you spend, though it did cost me several drinks and an encounter with a particularly dishevelled dog while I toiled in the corner."

Back to the park

Next it was James's turn for a challenge, so we packed him off to a meeting, and told him to write a blog when he came out, but he got off to a poor start by getting lost en route. "After wandering the streets for ages, I realised I was going to be late.

"I took the laptop out, plugged in the mobile broadband dongle, and found the street I was looking for on Windows Live Maps, and made the meeting on time," James said. Despite winning bonus points for innovative use of the connection, he still had a job to do and that blog hadn't been posted.

"As it was relatively warm I decided to take a trip to the park to work, and phoned Fraser on the way to see how he was getting on: he was still in the Wi-Fi pub, and was spending copious amounts on drinks. The city park still benefited from the 3.6Mbps coverage, so connecting was easy again, despite a few pages that needed refreshing because they hasn't displayed properly. I was able to write up my blog post and submit it to the website with few problems, although loading the images was a lot slower than normal."

The verdict: free Wi-Fi vs 3G

After a day spent out of the office, the big question remained: Is it worth buying a 3G contract or can you survive with free Wi-Fi?

James and Fraser were in agreement that there was only one winner. "Having to rush around town trying to find an available network was a nightmare," said Fraser. "Even though I searched for networks before I left, many of them didn't exist when I got there."

Not only did hopping between open Wi-Fi networks cost time, it cost Fraser money, too. "All the Wi-Fi networks are run by businesses looking to draw in customers, so my day using the Wi-Fi cost me a whopping £12 in drinks to keep me in internet access, and that's just for one day. That's almost as much as James' mobile broadband tariff costs for an entire month," said Fraser.

James and fraser

MOBILE WINS: The cost of mobile broadband may be expensive but compared to the cost of drinks it is a bargain

James was also impressed by the quality of the mobile broadband connection, but was dubious about the monthly cost. "Being able to surf anywhere was a real revelation for me, and it really places choice in your hands. However, coverage does vary widely, and unless you're in a major urban area you might find this less of a great experience," James said.

"Anyone who is out with their laptop on a regular basis should consider a mobile broadband package – you really will feel the benefits."