21 Jun, 2011 @ 09:00
4 mins read

Tech Review: USB 3G pay as you go modem in Spain

A NUMBER of people in our town spend periods of time in Spain and periods of time in their home country. From time to time they ask me what is the best option for them to get internet access at a reasonable price for the time they spend in Spain.

One option to consider is a USB 3G pay as you go modem. One of the earliest companies to provide such products in Spain was Vodafone but now virtually all phone companies provide such products. However in my view, at the moment, the best option if you want such a product is buy one from Carrefour.

You can have one of the modems on contract where you pay a fixed amount a month or pay as you go. For people who hop backwards and forwards between their home country and Spain the pay as you go option is probably the best one.

Carrefour sell a bundle of the USB modem stick, a sim card and five euros of prepay credit for 29 euros including tax. Their current modem offering in our local shop is a Huawei E1550.

When purchasing you need to have some photo proof of who you are. When I bought one recently they asked me for a passport. I showed them my NIE paperwork and my old NIE card with a photo on it and that was fine. Perhaps they would take a driving licence instead but it is probably safer to take your passport just in case if you don’t have an up-to-date NIE document and an old NIE photo card.

The billing policy is one euro a day (midnight to midnight) plus tax (1.18 euros in total) for each day that you use the modem. With a minimum payment of three days a month even if you don’t use it that month. For your 1.18 euros you get 100MB (megabytes – note the capital B for byte) of download capacity per day. If you exceed this amount of download in a day you can still connect to the internet for the rest of the day but the maximum download speed is 128kbps (kilobits per second – note the small b for bit) for the rest of the day.

Alternatively you can purchase 1GB (1024MB) of download capacity lasting up to 30 days for 19 euros plus tax (22.42 euros) or 3GB of download capacity lasting up to 30 days for 29 euros plus tax (34.22 euros).

The purchasing process is pretty easy. If you want to use the daily option you just put some credit on the pay as you go phone number and start using the modem. If you want to purchase one of the 1GB or 3GB options you put the appropriate credit on your pay as you go mobile phone number and send a text message to activate the download package.

You can top up your pre pay credit online, in a Carrefour shop (with 10% discount at the moment) or at cash point machines.

The installation process for the modem wasn’t too bad on the machines I have tried it on (Windows XP and Vista).

On XP the device is found and installs its driver and associated software itself eventually with lots of pop ups for various different hardware components in the modem package (CD drive, 3G mobile etc.). However I did have to to mess around a bit plugging and unplugging the modem into a USB port at various times for the installation process to complete successfully.

The installation went without a hitch on Vista. At present I am not sure whether it would be the same on Windows 7 as I have not tried it out on this operating system.

At installation time you can choose between an English or Spanish language installation for the software associated with the modem. However the manuals that come with the package are all only available in Spanish.

The software that is installed is called Mobile Partner and it seems reasonably easy to use so far. The only slight niggle I have had on an XP computer is that on occasions when I plug in the modem the software doesn’t always recognise that the modem is plugged in. On a couple of occasions I have plugged it in to a different USB port and it has then worked OK. Another time I had to start the Windows search for new hardware process to get the device to be recognised.

So far there have been no issues on the Vista PC.

So there may be a few glitches with the device on older PCs but I guess people can live with that as the price of the package and daily/monthly rates is pretty good for Spain.

You can see more details here on the Carrefour site (in Spanish).

A few other points to note:

  • You have to remember with this sort of device that you have to have good mobile phone reception for it to work at a good speed.
  • You can use a USB extender cable to help locate the modem in a position with good mobile phone reception. However the maximum length for a standard USB cable is 5 metres. You can extend up to 25 metres by using USB 2.0 Active Repeater Extension Cables.
  • As yet, I can’t work out a way of finding out how much credit you have left on the sim card while it is in the USB modem. You can put the sim card into an unlocked mobile phone and type in a code that enables you to check the credit (up to five times a month for free). However as yet I have not worked out how to do the same thing while the sim card is in the modem. I will try to sort this out at some point when I get a spare moment.
  • Be aware that you can lose your pay as you go mobile phone number if you do not use the device for a long time. I think this may be around six months. So if you are going to be away from Spain for a long time perhaps pass the modem on to a friend and get them to look after it for you. Using it occasionally to make sure that the mobile phone operator does not just drop the phone number from their system due to lack of use.


  1. I am a distributor for Masmovil who offer USB modems on pay as you go or 1Gb for 14.90 pm. Under Spanish law we must register sims only against a passport or NIE document .Mas will soon be offering micro sims for iPhone or iPad

  2. Hello John, I have just read your article on a Carrefour dongle for internet access in Spain. At present I have an iPad in which I put an Orange simcard when in Spain which gives me 3G access for €5 per day when in Spain (currently for a fortnight at a time.) I also have a Macbook which of course does not have any Microsoft software. Do you know if this Carrefour dongle will work with Apple computers (and software)?



  3. The vodafone service is a complete rip off. They offered the modem with minimul time as a bonus. The bonus was 1 gig. Good luck with that. Even with flash turned off and doing nothing but email reading and responding, I ate through 1 gig in 4 days. Went back to complain and was told if I buy another gig for 20 euros plus IVa, I can use the gig and still be online albeit at a slower speed.This was mis information and yet another attemt to extract money. I suggest anyone using vodfone, ask a lot of questions and and make sure your deal is of a short duration.

  4. Can anyone advise please me on the following: I live in Spain for approximately 5-6 months each year, split into 3 separate periods, and would like to use my laptop to access my emails and to Skype my family in England. I don’t want any monthly contracts where I would be paying when I am not there, so would like to know if I bought an unlocked Mas Movil dongle and either use PAYG or one of their low monthly rates (I know I can park my account for up to 9 months), would it meet my requirements? I have been getting conflicting advice that a dongle is fine for Skyping and others say it uses too much credit. Thanks in anticipation.

  5. I am in Brindisi Italy at the moment.
    I use a USB internet by 3. I pay 5 EUR for 3 GB. That is for one month. I usually use more so have 3 sim cards I charge up as needed.

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