Mobile misery: My need for speed
I want to make a confession about an embarrassing obsession which dogs me wherever I go, an addiction that I just can't shake off: I need to be connected to the internet and when I can't get online I get testy and nervous. Colleagues travelling with me sigh wearily as I exclaim, "yes, I've got a 3G signal," then moan, "100k - call that broadband?"
On my trip to Dundee and Belfast I've made sure I'm well equipped to be online 24/7. I have a laptop, an iPad, two mobile broadband MiFi units on different networks and a smartphone. But guess what? It's still a struggle.
W-ifi should be my greatest friend, but in airports, hotels and other public places, I find it both expensive and unreliable. What's more, having already paid for a lot of mobile broadband data, I'm determined to use as much of it as I can.
So far, my experience of getting online via 3G networks has been distinctly patchy. In a hotel in Dundee, I ran speed tests on the three different networks I've got with me. Vodafone barely got to 0.5 Mbps, while both Three and O2 struggled to get above 0.1Mbps.
In the city centre, I seemed to be getting a better signal so when I took a call from 5 Live asking me to do a live radio spot, I offered to make the most of my technology by broadcasting over the internet. Then, when I called in, the Skype connection was so shaky that I headed for the security of the BBC studio with its dedicated line to London.
In a hotel near Edinburgh airport last night, things looked a lot better. Determined not to pay £5 an hour for wi-fi, I ran tests on my 3G dongles and found better news. Both Vodafone and Three were offering a healthy 1Mbps, although the O2 network on my phone still barely delivered 0.2Mbps.
I settled down to watch Spooks on the iPlayer via 3G. It worked pretty well at first, but just as the episode reached its breathless dénouement, the screen froze as the network apparently stuttered to a halt. Foiled again. (Ironic really as the Spooks agents never seem to have any troubles having live video conversations with Harry back at HQ.)
Now you might say my sad obsession with getting connected is of no great concern to anyone else. But I say you're wrong. If the UK is to punch its weight as a high-tech, connected, nation then our infrastructure needs to be a lot better, especially when it comes to mobile broadband. And I need to be able to find out what happened at the end of Spooks, wherever I am.