I recently applied for, and was accepted into, a trial for the Samba Mobile free mobile broadband service. Samba provide a 3G USB dongle for which you are able to build up credit by viewing video ads via a Firefox extension which also installs a “battery” icon in your navigation bar showing your available credit in days. The more ads you view, the more days of credit you get.
Once you’ve built up enough credit, you can browse the Internet as with any other 3G dongle. According to the paperwork that was supplied with the welcome pack, the dongle and SIM are provided by Nutshell Mobile, which in turn is an MVNO running on the Three network. The supplied ZTE MF112 dongle is the standard Three device (with a paper Samba logo sticker covering the Three logo!), complete with the same standard 3Connect software that Three supply. It all worked flawlessly on my main Windows machine (although I wasn’t able to send/receive texts or view my account details as presumably these features aren’t available on the Nutshell/Samba SIM) and I was even able to get online using my spare Linux machine thanks to the Sakis3G script.
It’s worth pointing out that there are no ads forced upon you as you use the service, so it doesn’t get in the way of your normal browsing. You just need to remember to keep topping up your credit by viewing ads, which is pretty painless and something you can easily do with the sound turned down while you’re doing something else. I would expect the service to stop working when I run out of credit, but I wonder if it would continue to allow me access to the Samba site to build up some more credit on the go.
The Samba website is fairly basic (complete with the misspelt “live alot” tagline) and sparse in information – I have no idea, for example, what the monthly data transfer limit is – but it’s early days and I’d expect that the site would be fleshed out prior to a public launch. Samba might also want to consider switching to a courier service more reliable than CityLink as it took me well over a month to receive my welcome pack!
Ideally, I’d like to see Samba develop their own multi-platform client software that provides a way to view ads and remaining credit without forcing users to use Firefox (not that I have anything against Firefox, but it’s not my primary browser), and maybe provide other ways of getting online such as MiFi hotspots to support a wider range of devices (think iPod and non-3G iPad users), but these things could come later.
I think the Samba Mobile service has the potential to be really popular with consumers, because it offers a useful service for free that would be fairly costly if bought directly from an operator such as Three. I only hope that their is enough advertising revenue to keep the service afloat, as it would be a great shame if the service wasn’t able to get off the ground.