John Weekes

John Weekes is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Consumer Watch: USB user stuck with wrong end of the stick

Neil Riley went through quite a struggle to get a replacement. Photo / Hagen Hopkins
Neil Riley went through quite a struggle to get a replacement. Photo / Hagen Hopkins

If you've recently moved house, gone away on business or had a meltdown with your main internet provider, chances are you'll have tried a USB modem stick to tide you over.

Neil Riley, from Wellington, was livid about the quality of a stick he bought in Hamilton last year. Riley said he had no other way to access the internet but the 2degrees stick was "dead" and useless after a few months.

Riley said the shop didn't seem to care, and he had to call seven times and ring 2degrees' head office before getting a replacement. While he waited he was stuck. "I couldn't do anything. I depend on the internet and I pay my money - $20 (a gigabyte), which is pretty expensive."

2degrees said Riley's case was unusual and replaced his stick as soon as possible. "We did everything we could to get him back up and running," spokeswoman Charlene White said.

Chris O'Connell from Tuanz, the Telecommunications Users Group, said phone companies virtually "gave away" cheaper sticks. Five years ago the main issues with sticks were software problems and configuration niggles. Today, cheap hardware was more likely the problem. "As these things get cheaper, and people have an expectation of them being really cheap, the way they're manufactured and the quality control gets really cheap as well."

2degrees said most USB modems were made in China. The company said it had "very few issues" with the more than 50,000 sticks it had sold.

2degrees said demand for its USB modems was growing but O'Connell said stick use would probably decrease this year because "most smartphones are now capable of internet tethering".

"If your smartphone is data-capable and you connect to a computer with your USB cable it can often then provide internet to your computer." Most android phones also have this capability. There were also more free wireless internet areas available for web surfers.

"Most people would only use a stick in a place where they had no other choice."

Meanwhile, Riley is sticking to USB modems, shopping for deals, and hoping he doesn't get stuck again.

- Herald on Sunday

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