Samba's advert-supported 3G data service launches in UK

Samba screenshot Subscribers are given a range of adverts to chose from to build up credit

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A service offering an advertising-supported 3G data service for mobile computers has launched in the UK.

Subscribers to Samba must first purchase a sim card - and optional dongle - and then watch video adverts to build up their credit.

It describes itself as being the "UK's first free broadband service for users on the go". Members are told their website visits may be tracked.

Analysts warn similar business models have struggled.

The London-based company was founded by Ben Atherton who previously worked at a separate marketing agency which offered users rewards in return for providing details about themselves.

"With Samba you earn the credit watching ads at a time that is convenient to you and then have access when you need it," he said.

"It also marks an end to that hunt for a coffee shop, pub, hotel or library to get online."

Pornography ban

Subscribers must install a web browser plug-in or install an app on their iPad which directs them to qualifying adverts - the system does not work on other tablets at present.

The firm says that in return for watching two-and-a-half minutes of video campaigns a day they can build enough credit to download 517 megabytes of data through Three's network each month.

If members buy an item from one of the firm's partners they gain additional credit. Alternatively there is an option to buy data with a cash top-up.

There is no credit limit, but advertisers limit how many time each video can be watched.

Samba dongle The dongle which makes Samba's sim card work with laptop and notebook computers costs an extra £20

Members are forbidden from accessing sites that contain pornography, material that breaches copyright or is judged to be offensive.

In addition, the firm says it may install cookies that allow it to collect information entered into third-party websites as well as data about other "general internet usage".

It says these include, but are not limited to, "traffic data, location data, weblogs, URLs, search terms and other communication data and the resources that you access."

It adds that subscribers have the right to request the information is not subsequently used for marketing purposes.

Predecessor's problems

Mr Atherton said the firm had signed up "premium ads" from brands including Volvo, Xbox Kinect, Dell and Clinique.

However, Guillermo Escofet, senior analyst at research group Informa Telecoms and Media, said a previous attempt to make this business model work had gone awry.

"This is very reminiscent of Blyk - an ad supported network offering free mobile calls and SMS messages targeted at students about five years ago," he told the BBC.

"It had big ambitions to spread to other countries but never took off in the way organisers had hoped.

"They managed to get a fair amount of users but essentially they didn't raise enough advertising revenue from enough brands. While I don't know exactly how Samba's model works I fear there's the risk this might face the same fate."

Michael Phillips, managing director of the internet tariff price comparison site broadbandchoices.co.uk, also expressed doubts about the hassle-factor involved.

"The whole joy of using something like an iPad is that it is an instant on experience - this reintroduces a level of frustration," he said

"This is great for people that don't have a lot of money but you have to watch a lot of adverts to get much use out of it and I suspect there will only be a small group of consumers willing to do that."

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