BitDepth 664 - January 27

TSTT reintroduces their mobile broadband service...
TSTT reintroduces mobile broadband

The Franklin CDU 680 is the receiver for TSTT's relaunched mobile broadband service. The modem can fold at a right angle while in use and includes a 64MB flashdrive preloaded with the software it needs for Windows (2000, XP, Vista), Linux (Ubuntu) and the MacOS. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

It's been almost two and a half years since TSTT offered its first mobile broadband service... and then abruptly stopped offering the service to customers a few months later.
The issue then was bandwidth saturation. The mobile broadband service works much like the cellular network does (it is, in theory, a CDMA based cellular network itself). When there are more users than anticipated online, everyone gets diminishing returns.
The rebranded and relaunched service, now dubbed "Blink-to-go," is virtually identical to the original product in use. Both services are based on transmissions carried on existing cell towers received by a small USB modem that customers plug into their computers.
The new service comes with a new modem, the Franklin CDU 680, a dual-band device which operates locally on the 800mhz frequency (it also supports 1900mhz services).
Installation is straightforward. Plug the modem into any available USB port, install the software, restart and connect. The modem that TSTT gave me for testing came preconfigured and activated, though I did have to reenter the password to log into the system.

Mobile broadband on the road
TSTT boasts that it has improved coverage of Trinidad and Tobago with a new CDMA network which it dubs Rev A, but regrettably, my testing of the network didn't happen at a time when I was travelling anywhere near the extremes of signal coverage.
The original mobile broadband network remains in service, and according to information that the company provided, offers slightly higher upper limits for data flow, particularly for upload.
These are theoretical limits, though. The throughput on the Blink-to-go service remains comparable to the connectivity experience with the original network.
TSTT promises 756Kbps of download capacity and 256Kbps of upload capacity and my testing at three locations bore out that promise, more or less.

Real world tests delivered results that ranged from 413Kbps/75Kbps to 798Kbps/251Kbps. Latency on the connection was, on average, double that of a wired connection at 180ms on average. You'll feel a perceptible pause after clicking on a link or sending an e-mail before the connection kicks in as latency on the network increases.
In only one test, at midnight on Old Year's Night, did connections drop to an unacceptable level at a stationary location in Tunapuna when I got download speeds of 100kbps, the kind of crawling performance that you'd get on a bad dialup connection.
Asked about the issue, TSTT politely didn't ask why I was testing their broadband service at midnight on Old Year's Night and noted that "whenever the cell site is fully utilized, a temporary localized access issue may develop." Performance may also drop if you are too far from the nearest cell site.
TSTT has no plans to market the optional antenna that the CDU 680 supports nor is it planning to offer desktop based modems that access the service, noting that its regular Blink service is being developed to serve 100,000 users in Trinidad and Tobago.

Is it for you?
Potential Blink to go customers may be a bit gun shy, given the slowdowns that previous customers of TSTT's earlier mobile broadband service suffered as the service became more popular.
TSTT assures that bandwidth saturation issues have been addressed through monthly limits for usage, a volume based billing system, a second carrier with load balancing features and an ethernet backhaul on some cell sites to offer better access to the core network.
The Blink to go service delivers what it promises, though it should be noted that it promises no improvement in speed. Three years after the introduction of the first service, bandwidth on the service remains below one megabit and the cost is still breathtaking. For those who need it and can amortise the monthly bill or can afford it as a luxury, there is no comparable alternative for the mobile user.

My one snarky quibble with the whole Blink to go promotion centred on their offer of free GMail accounts with the service. Since anyone can get a GMail account for free, this seemed rather spurious.
TSTT promises that they will be using their partnership with the Google mail service to "deliver content," establish an Internet community and offer custom toolbars and other Google gadgets to customers using their GMail service.
Given TSTT's long delays on delivering any content on its promised entertainment channel and current stony silence on the subject that remains to be seen.

The Blink bill
Bandwidth 600Kbps @ $575 per month (monthly allowance of 2000 MB/month)
Excess use fee $0.40/MB
Activation Fee $600
Device Fee $1,200 (modem is free with one and two year plans)

2006 BitDepth review (#537) of the original mobile broadband service.

Through an editing error, the published version of this column incorrectly described the new network at Rev O, it runs on TSTT's Rev A network. The change has been made to this archived version.
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