O2 became a mobile broadband operator in its own right in April 2008. As the exclusive network operator for Apple's iPhone 3G in the UK, you can expect it to keep increasing 3G coverage across the UK.
As with the other models reviewed here, installation was a breeze on XP or Vista machines: place the dongle into a USB port (either directly or via the provided USB cable) and the drivers install immediately.
We found the O2 Connection Manager that installs alongside the drivers a bit intrusive. O2 says the application provides a simple way to manage all your wireless connections, including Wi-Fi and GPRS, as well as the 3G enabled by O2's modem. While this may be the case, we thought the warnings about our User Account Control (UAC) settings were a bit much - we get enough of these from Windows Vista.
The Connection Manager comes into its own when Wi-Fi hotspots are available, though. O2 provides customers with free access to around 7,500 Wi-Fi hotspots from The Cloud (subject to a fair-usage policy).
By default, the Connection Manager will inform you when a faster network is available - just click on the option to switch to the Wi-Fi network when it's offered.
This came in quite handy as we found O2's 3G network less impressive than the other services tested here. Even in built-up areas, we generally achieved speeds of around 400 kilobits per second (Kbps) - that's fine for web browsing, but lags behind the best performers when downloading larger files. As always, check O2's site to see how good coverage is near you.
Two contracts are available, each costing £20 per month. The difference is that the 18-month deal includes a free dongle, whereas one-month subscribers must pay a one-off £100 to get their hands on the device. Both come with a 3GB data limit per month, with excess data charged at 20p per MB.
Check your local coverage here: webmap.o2.co.uk.
O2 enjoys solid 3G coverage, is easy to install and will set you back only £20 a month if you sign up for 18 months.