3G Internet access using mobile phone + laptop in France

In France, we only have 3 mobile network operators: Orange, SFR, and Bouygues Telecom. They usually discuss their rates together to make sure that one of them doesn’t break the market by creating too interesting rates (that’s why it would be so cool if Free.fr could get a 3G license, and why the governement can tell them “do what we want, or we will give Free a 3G license” – source).

I’ve long been interested in using my mobile phone with my laptop to access the Internet. With the 3 operators, you can get a contract for a 3G USB key, but that’s not really interesting: it’s expensive, and there’s a limit on volume of data, so you have to monitor your bandwidth. Also, I only need to use my mobile phone as modem a few times a month. So I’m not really interested in paying an expensive monthly fee for that.

What do french MNOs offer?

Most of them have rather interesting offers when you want to get unlimited internet access from your mobile, but that doesn’t cover the case of using your phone as a modem, to access the internet on another device (e.g laptop). I’m not sure how they can see the difference, but apparently they do. (It seems that there are hacks making use of those unlimited rates, using your phone as a router between the Wifi network (but your phone has to support Wifi) and the 3G network, using apps like WMWiFiRouter. Another hack is to use the same HTTP proxy on the laptop than on the phone, which seems to give unlimited HTTP access.)

But offers for using your phone as a modem are clearly less interesting (probably because they want to push their USB 3G cards offers):

Apparently, you are billed only based on the volume (see page 46 of this document), with a progressive rate. 5 MB/month costs 9 EUR, 100 MB costs 20 EUR, and over 100 MB, you pay 1 EUR/MB (!).

See page 40-41 of this document. You pay 0.50 EUR for a 30 minutes session, with 2 MB of data included. After those 2 MB of data, you pay 1 EUR/MB.

Those rates are really crazy. Using a mobile phone on an HSDPA network (called “3G+” in France), you can easily reach 1 Mbps. (and I did see this rate while fetching files using rsync, so I was not particularly aiming at performance!). 1 Mbps translates to 7.5 EUR/min using the 1 EUR/MB rate. Or 12.5 cts/sec!!!

Surprisingly, Orange (ex-France Telecom), which is usually not the most innovative MNO and ISP in France, saves us. With Orange, you pay 0.5 EUR for a 20 mins session, with unlimited volume (sessions called “session multimédia” by Orange). I was so surprised that I called the assistance to check. And after trying it yesterday, I was a bit anxious when checking my online bill this morning. But it works!

Important note before you try (from Orange website):
La session multimédia est une tarification valable pour les clients forfaits mobile Orange (hors forfaits Orange pour iPhone, Mobicarte et cartes prépayées). Pour les clients Classique, Intense, Pro, Click le forfait et Initial dont la souscription ou le réengagment est antérieur au 14 juin 2007, pour les clients forfaits bloqués dont la souscription ou le réengagement est antérieur au 16 août 2007 et pour les clients bénéficiant d’une offre blackberry, l’accord exprès de l’abonné à bénéficier de la session multimédia est nécessaire. Les autres clients bénéficient de la tarification au volume.

12 thoughts on “3G Internet access using mobile phone + laptop in France

  1. Hi Lucas,

    it comes even better with Orange. You can have 500MB for 9EUR per month. Works even with the prepaid cards. I think with the forfaits it currently is only 5EUR. Above 500MB only the bandwidth gets capped but you don’t get charged (as opposed to Bouygues). The thing is hidden in “option multimedia” and you have to call 220 in order to activate it.

    The whole thing is very well hidden and even moving around. I just checked and it is in fiche_tarifaire_click_mobicarte.pdf which you can find via “documentation et tarifs”. Page 21 explains it.[1]

    If you need a working pppd config drop me a mail. I’m using it with the openmoko phone and GPRS can stay online for at least two days while moving around.


    [1] http://sites.orange.fr/ge/content/pdf/v2_pdf/documentation/fiche_tarifaire_click_mobicarte.pdf

  2. @Marcus: I know about this option. But the blurb in the PDF says: ” Les usages en mode modem sont facturés en dehors de l’option.”. So this works if you are using the internet from the phone, not if you connect your laptop to the phone and run pppd on the laptop. (in that case, you still pay using “sessions multimédia”)

    Someone told me that he was using this option to connect to the net using his laptop, and that he wasn’t billed separately, but using his option internet quota (i.e, that Orange didn’t detect that he wasn’t using his laptop). But that sounds risky if you have a contract. That someone had a pre-paid card, so he was safe: if Orange started billing him “correctly”, he would just empty his prepaid account, not get a huge bill at the end of the month.

  3. I’m actively looking for web access through my phone, and until now everything I saw seemed like a huge ripoff. No operator advertises any option for using the phone as a modem, they only offer the 3G USB key. It also isn’t clear if there are pricing differences for using 3G/UMTS, 3G+/HDSP, or good old 1.5G/GPRS. etc…

    Actually, the whole situation leaves me frothing in the mouth with rage. I thought our wireless market was better / more competitive than in the US!

    This is the second mention I see about Orange having an interesting but covert option. I’ll have to check that out. I dislike Orange in general, but my current operator (SFR) doesn’t have anything.

    So, when is Free getting their license? :p

  4. I feel sorry for you people in France. I just got 10eur/mo unlimited 3G+ plan, only the maximum speed is capped to 384kbps…

  5. Hi,
    I use the HTTP Proxy technique with an added layer of OpenVPN for fully native internet access. The basics are described here (solution du riche). You need a gateway host with access to port 80 or 443 that you can control though.

    You can’t accidently mix up unlimited and paid counter on SFR, they use different GPRS gateways (wapsfr and websfr).

    It works perfectly for me and I use about 300 Mb a month.

  6. I’ll be visiting France this Oct 11 for 2-3 wks.

    Can anyone advice which operator has the CHEAPEST call tariffs & 3G rates which I can use on my smartphone?


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