When your 3G dongle's down, it's woe, woe, woe -

These 3G mobile dongles are all well and good but it's a bit of a disaster when you break them. Suddenly you're facing an Internet wilderness. The 3G equivalent of a volcanic dust cloud. Buying a 'grey' replacement dongle does work as a way out, of course.

Swapping a 3G dongle on monthly contract with one which is supposed to be for PAYG is possible as TechEye  recently found out. Although paying a mere £20 for it seems to adversely affect data throughput speeds.

In the UK, buying an unlocked dongle from a High Street shady operation is frowned upon as such items are viewed as ''grey imports."

The problem for this clumsy 3G hack was that he accidentally destroyed his Vodafone K3769 mobile broadband dongle by sitting on it. Just when access to the Net was of prime importance.

The obvious answer was to visit the nearest Vodafone outlet. And an awfully nice assistant in Sutton, Surrey struggled manfully to help us out. Alas, if you've lost a battle against one of the UK's giant credit card companies, such shops can't help you out.

They're forced to credit check you even if you have money in the bank and valid ID. The poor assistant had never seen his terminal take five minutes to reject some-one. Now he has.

So it was out of the shop and down the road to an independent reseller – in this case Maplin who offered a PAYG dongle for £35. The catch is that being a non-specialist vendor, they had no idea if a PAYG dongle could accept a contract SIM card.

Spotting a High Street phone unlocker, TechEye did a deal and obtained a Vodafone K3565 for a mere £20. He was pretty sure the dongle would work.

In the end, he was proved right because it was a matter of removing the old Vodafone software and installing the version stored on the K3565 itself. Re-configure from 'PAYG' to 'contract' and off you go.

There's one big catch, however. The Vodafone K3565 is actually a Huawei E160x dongle. And its top speed is 3.6 Mbit/s. Which is unfortunate because Vodafone's network is actually capable of 7.2 Mbit/s.

TechEye has searched in vein for a firmware upgrade that would take this dongle back up to 7.2 Mbit/s. This trick was performed on an E220 from 3UK. But it looks impossible on an E160.

Given their model numbers, however, this isn't such a shock.