Edit: As of August 2012 it seems like Viva are once again throttling the already throttled speed once you go over your limit. You will have a few gigs at 512Kbps before getting dropped down to 128Kbps.
Edit: As of January 2012 it seems like Viva is not throttling the throttled speed mentioned towards the end of the review (the 512Kbps throttle speed going down to 128Kbps after going over a certain amount).
Here comes review 2 of the Internet services I have tried. After having some problems with Menatelecom's myKey service and requiring one of their technicians to have a look at the device for something that is probably fixable over the phone, I decided to give Viva's service a try. I am not unfamiliar with Viva's Internet service, since I have reviewed their prepaid broadband service before. This time I was going to try their "unlimited" broadband service that goes upto 42Mbps.
Viva is probably the ISP I have seen take the "upto" claim for real. This was further enforced when I was at their stand signing up for the service, the manager jokingly said "it isn't 42Mbps it is up to 42Mbps!". I had an idea of what to expect taking into account what others have mentioned about the service. The service they provide is over their mobile network which is the newest one in Bahrain and probably the one with most coverage (thanks to 400 base stations). The Internet service provided by Viva is basically the same regardless of what package you decide to take, the only different is how much you can download before getting capped. The device is what gives you the speeds they advertise. I decided to go all out and spoil myself with their 42Mbps device which is a Huawei e372. The price is BD40 if you take it with a 1 year contract (early termination fee between BD30 and BD50 depending which month of service you terminate), or BD100 with no contract. Alternatively you may get one of the other devices they have. Compared to the prepaid's Huawei e172 it is quite big and somehow feels like it has a better build quality (oh and it is shiny!). The image below might give you an idea (e372 on top, e172 bottom):
Like most of these Internet dongles, all the software you need is inside the device, you just plug it in and it appears as a USB flash drive. Another advantage is that it works well on popular Linux distributions. On Ubuntu, it worked out of the box using Gnome's network manager, on Debian however, I needed some help from the famous Sakis3G script. You do lose some features between Windows and Linux: access to advanced diagnostics, sending and receiving SMS (Viva send bill reminders through it) and a decent (slightly innacurate) connection statistics tool. There are probably tools out there for Linux that take care of these extras but I didn't bother looking. The main interface (below) and statistics area (under the main interface) of the connection manager looks like this:
As you can see above, the lower left corner of the main interface lets you know if you are synched (not connected), to a 2G (aka EDGE) or 3G (WCDMA, HSPA, HSPA+, DC-HSPA+). Once you get connected you may get the highest network possible which is DC-HSPA+:
I was actually surprised to know that Viva's DC-HSPA+ network (aka 42Mbps network) was still being rolled out since I had been getting the DC-HSPA+ network no matter where I tried! Good news is that they have completed upgrading their whole network to support the new technology recently. But don't expect to see that 42Mbps speed since it depends on may factors: signal, weather, how many users connected, overall network capacity and of course what you are wearing . For the record, the highest speed I ever got using the 42Mbps network was around 22Mbps (what their network originally supported), on a Friday morning (the equivalent of Sunday here) and in the Diplomatic Area (busy business center on weekdays, ghost town during weekends). The average speed I got was around 14Mbps, depending on location and time, peak time would fluctuate anywhere between 5Mbps and 14Mbps. Upload speeds are also pretty good, I would hit a few Mbps easily.
Update: Here is a recent speed test in the same conditions mentioned above (just slightly less than 22Mbps).
So what is bad about the service? Apart from the fact that it is an "up to" service the speed you get is quite good. However, the "unlimited" package is capped at 60GB of data transfer. Once you hit it you get capped at 512Kbps, still not that bad right? Go a few GBs on that capped 512Kbps connection and you will get knocked down to 128Kbps!!!
For a person that relies on the Internet for just about everything, accessing content on a 128Kbps connection is like hell on Earth! This is the relevant section on Fair Usage Policy (FUP) on their website at the time of writing, as you can see it mentions nothing about the speed you would expect:
I remember a while ago it used to show that the speed will be throttled to 512Kbps. Using one of those site caching websites I dug up what that "Terms and Conditions" section used to look like:
The star on the second point of their previous terms and conditions lead to a tiny fine print at the bottom of the same page with the following:
/StartHypocrisy Those bloody file sharers downloading large files!!! /EndHypocrisy
I decided to give customer support a call, which in my opinion are the best compared to those I tried recently, thinking 128Kbps means something was wrong. I was told that anything between 128Kbps and 512Kbps is normal, since the throttle is "up to" 512Kbps. I was reassured that a few Kbps would mean that something is wrong… It sucks being capped at 128Kbps before the middle of the month…
Verdict: Viva's broadband service is pretty good and has much better coverage than, for example, Menatelecom (178 base stations only). However, given that they do not mention that you may get capped at 128Kbps since it is "up to" 512Kbps, I would knock off more than a star for that alone. After the first month of usage I am seriously thinking of paying that termination fee or waiting for another month to pay a (slightly) lower ETF. The last sentence will pave the way to the third Internet service I have just signed up for, from a familiar provider …! One which I hope will not fail me.