This is the first of a series of reviews of the different Internet services I have used since my last review.
Menatelecom's myKey service is basically similar to what other ISPs in Bahrain offer, Internet through a USB dongle. However, the biggest difference is that they do not use a mobile (as in mobile phone / cell) network, but rather WiMAX. They offer the service under two different sub-service. You can either get it on its own. Or, if you already use the menaHome service, you can get it through the Smart Pack service. The difference between the two is that if you get it under the Smart Pack your download limit (aka data transfer) AND speed will be of your menaHome service. So if you have the 4MB service, all devices under the Smart Pack will be limited to 4Mbps and 40GB of data transfer, all devices will also be throttled at 512Kbps once you use up your limit. Also note that Smart Pack is only available for those subscribed to the 2Mbps Boost package and above, the service costs an additional BD2/device/month up to 2 additional devices. The device must also be purchased in this case (BD24 for either). If you get it as a separate service, the myKey service, you have a choice of 4 service tiers starting at BD5 up to BD28, with speeds reaching up to 18Mbps. Do note that the "unlimited" tier is not really unlimited but rather 80GB, which gets throttled at 1Mbps if you go over. The device can be obtained either by buying it (no contract) or at BD2 installments for 18 months. You have a choice of two different dongles from two different brands. The Motorola USBw 200, works on Windows only, or the Green Packet UH-235 which works on both Windows and Mac. Sadly there is no Linux support and nothing can be done until either manufacturer releases a Linux driver.
This review will be based on two different perspectives: my own experience using the service (under the Smart Pack) and my friend's experience (using it as a service on its own, unlimited tier). At the time I registered for the myKey service under the Smart Pack (4Mbps menaHome) I decided to go for the Motorola simply because it was a brand which I was more familiar with (and which I thought would support Linux some where in the Interwebs…). The device looks like this:
With the USB pulled into the dongle, the device's length is about that of your pointing finger. The USB port swivels up to 270 degrees, which should be enough to position for both comfort and signal. One weird thing about the device is the sticker on its side. Apparently it is not for market placement but rather for demonstration purposes only. I never bothered checking with them if my device was a test / sample device. It's either that or these are devices that come straight from Motorola's drawing board and is missing the service provider's custom designed enclosure.
There is no CD with the dongle, but much like other similar devices today, the software and drivers are built into the device. As soon as you plug it in, Windows recognizes the device as a USB flash / thumb drive. You must install the "Motorola Connection Manager" software before using the service. When you register, Menatelecom provides you with the username and password required to authenticate in the network.
Enough about the device, now its time to go into the service. After registering for the service with Menatelecom, they gave me a pair of username and password to login. After installing the software and drivers, I tried to get online. Unfortunately I kept getting an authentication failure error. I called their customer support center and the first operator that picked up simply told me to go to Menatelecom's Moda Mall (aka Sheraton aka Bahrain World Trade Center) branch "for any problem with myKey". I was disappointed, first hour I get problems, and help was far away (plus this was in March, to those familiar with Bahrain). I decided to wait a bit, hoping that a new shift comes in and call them again. The second call solved my problem, given the information they took from me, apparently the device was not registered in the network… I had a new set of username and password and boom, I am connected! From various speed tests, I was getting the promised 4Mbps from my menaHome tier.
Further tests on mobility around various places in Bahrain (Juffair, Diplomatic Area and Muharraq mostly) did show a shortcoming of the service. In order to connect and most importantly STAY connected I noticed that I needed at least 3 out of 5 bars. Otherwise, I would disconnect if I happened to wave my hand over the device (for example picking a cup) or if something as simple as one of those stand-up menus in restaurants were in front. There were times I would get such low signals even right next to a wall of window. A USB extender helped a bit, but not much. However, over the past few months the signal has greatly improved to the point where I would get 4 to 5 bars out of 5, even in my room (which seems to be a Faraday cage for signals…).
My friend signed up for the service and got the Green Packet device on the unlimited package. One advantage of the device is that a mini USB B wire connects between your computer and device allowing you to move it around. He was impressed with the speed, it would easily reach 16Mbps out of the "up to" 18Mbps when a well seeded torrent was being downloaded. Unfortunately, an experiment we tried left both of us with no Internet… We tried using each other's username and password to see if account sharing was possible on different devices. Yes it did work, however, soon after both devices would fail at obtaining an IP address. This experiment did show something interesting, it seems like Menatelecom limits speed based on MAC address rather than username and password since the highest speed I ever got using his account was 4Mbps (note: I was already capped and my account would go to 512Kbps only). We called them asking if it was possible to change passwords (hoping it would somehow restore Internet) since we "thought" someone may have been using our Internet … They said it was impossible for accounts to be shared due to the way it works… Our experiment had just proven them otherwise… But it wasn't something to explain to a Level 1 CS agent. Calling again, hoping to get someone more experienced simply resulted in the usual excuse "go to our Moda Mall branch". My friend ended up cancelling his service on the first month, and I spent a few days without Internet on the road (every call resulted in the Moda Mall excuse).
Verdict: the service is great when it works and well worth its price compared to the next service I will be reviewing. However, a lack of Linux support (my netbook is Linux) did put me off a bit. Customer support can sometimes be annoying when the fix for any problem related to myKey is a trip to the busiest part of the country…
PS: NEVER TRY SOMEONE ELSE'S ACCOUNT ON YOUR MYKEY DEVICE IF YOU WANT INTERNET!!!