Cheap prepaid internet access in Spain

19 Jul 2010
Posted by Laptop Junction

Looking for cheap and easy, plug and play internet on a laptop, notebook or netbook in Spain? Here’s an impression of a 2010 summer time offer by The PhoneHouse. It includes a 3G USB modem (simlock free), simcard and prepaid balance. How easy is it to get connected to the internet? Have a look.

The PhoneHouse – catering the Spanish cellphone market

The PhoneHouse in Spain is immensely popular – their shops are littered allover the country catering the mobile computing and cellphone market. Most convenient is their monthly flyer, with an overview of all the cellular internet landscape in Spain

The PhoneHouse in Spain - catering the mobile computing and cellphone market

For the non-tech foreigner The PhoneHouse is probably the best starting point to get your laptop connected to the internet while on a business trip, holiday or vacation in Spain. Shops are easy to find, the flyer lists the offers and sometimes sales personnel is willing to help you out.

Plug and play Internet in Spain – A PhoneHouse offer

MoviData is a PhoneHouse brand for prepaid / prepay / PAYG internet access in Spain. It uses the Orange network, one of the 3 biggest Spanish cellular network companies.

In summer 2010 the PhoneHouse made a grab at the prepaid / prepay / PAYG market with a pretty competitive offer.

  MoviData prepay prepaid PAYG offer for 3G internet access in spain with a USB modem donble
MoviData Prepay Prepaid PAYG offer for 3g internet access in Spain by The PhoneHouse

You get a 3G USB modem (unlocked) for € 14 and € 15 prepaid balance (total € 29 / US$ 37). Daily charge is € 1.50 for 100 Mb – daily excess is charged 6 eurocents / Mb. After 31 august 2010, the daily rate is increased to € 2.50 / day excluding tax.

As a foreigner, you need to supply a copy of your passport. They register the simcard in your name, but at the address of the PhoneHouse shop. No need for residency, a spanish bank account or anything similar.

The 3G plug and play modem – The HUAWEI E220 USB dongle

Nicknamed a ‘soap on a rope’ the HUAWEI E220 3G USB modem is a simple tiny device.

Huawei e220 HSDPA UMTS EDGE GPRS GSM USB dongle modem
Huawei e220 3G HSDPA UMTS EDGE GPRS GSM USB dongle modem and MoviData simcard

It can connect to traditional GSM – GRPS/EDGE (2G) networks as well as UMTS – HSDPA (3G). Next to the USB jack it has a light indicating it’s either connected to a 2G (green) or 3G (blue) network.

3G USB Modem dongle installation

The HUAWEI E220 modem installs itself initially as a CDROM device. Meaning it triggers the Windows auto-play function (if not switched off) starting software installation immediately. The software comes from the USB dongle - it's stored in internal flash memory. No need for extra CD's or downloads.

After completion the desktop has an icon called “Mobile Partner”. Probably on simlocked USB modem devices, the name of the icon would the name of the network.

So far so good – software is installed and the modem light is blinking.

Weak cellular / mobile signal at your holiday home or apartment in Spain? Read about a professional 3G modem with external antenna.

Starting MoviData prepay PAYG Internet

It seems like a pretty clever piece of software. Connection management software comes up with 1 connect button in the center of the screen. It seems simple.

Huawei mobile partner connection manager for 3G internet access
Huawei mobile partner connection manager for 3G internet access

Unfortunately – the "connect" button doesn’t work. No internet connection is starting. Instead a “no profile” warning pops-up. Without reading the manual it’s a bit confusing what to do – even for the trained eye.

Upto here everything seemed plug and play – its clear now something has to be configured, so lets get the manual.

Setting a 3G connection profile

After a bit of reading its clear a connection profile needs to be set. The connection manager has a facility for this, though it’s the usual tech interface with stuff that raises a lot of questions for the ordinary user.

Nonetheless, it was a simple procedure for those who know. Just type the name of the connection profile you want and save it. No need to enter any settings, such as APN, IP address or similar.

Huawei mobile partner connection manager - setting a connection profile
Huawei mobile partner connection manager - setting a connection profile

Clearly, this problem would not have been there once the HUAWEI E220 USB dongle was branded and consequently simlocked. The profile would have been set by default. With the unbranded simlock-free version this needs to be done by the owner.

3G Connection with MoviData – Orange in Spain

After setting the profile, the connection was established quickly. The speed and performance was comparable with Yoigo – so pretty good for a € 1.50 / day deal.

Have a look at 3G Internet access by Yoigo through the Vodafone network.

The HUAWEI E220 automatically switches to 3G / UMTS when it’s detected. There’s a connection setting to change the “UMTS preferred” setting to for instance “GMS only”.

The latter would be useful when the 3G signal is too weak but causes constant switching. Forcing it to GSM only makes that go away. The speed is much lower though at least the connection is uninterrupted by switching.

MoviData Balance inquiries

From start balance inquiries using the SMS system didn’t work. SMS messages were not shipped. Upto now it’s unclear why. To make a balance inquiry one needs to call the helpdesk – which is not free.

Alternatively, one can keep a log, using the traffic statistics screen in the 3G connection manager, to estimate the date the € 15 prepaid balance runs out. Recharging is like many other prepaid / prepay / PAYG networks, just visit a petrol station and recharge by supplying the cell phone number and the amount.

Overall impression cheap and easy Internet access in Spain

The MoviData offer is not totally plug-and-play when supplied with unbranded 3G modem but it comes pretty close. If the 3G dongle was branded there would be a standard profile for MoviData in the connection manager and the “connect” button would work immediately.
Compared to the competition, MoviData by The PhoneHouse is a pretty sharp deal. € 1.50 / day for 3G is not bad at all knowing the rest charges much higher rates. Though one needs to be careful with crossing the daily 100Mb bandwidth. Above this bundle the rate is 6 eurocent / Mb which can deplete your balance real quick at 3G speeds.

More 3G internet info in Spain

Yoigo 3G internet in Spain

3G professional routers with external antenna 

Cheap Mobile Phone weak signal booster

Free local digital TV in Spain on your laptop.