A retrospective of 3G routers in Turkey

aka “Ave tries to write a short blog post, dives into old ads, then adds a section about the history that's longer than the blog post topic itself, then splits the whole thing into two posts”

In late 2009 and most of early 2010s, starting from the 3G launch in Turkey (which was on 30 July 2009), Turkish carriers pushed 3G modems hard, especially Turkcell (which you may have heard of as “Lifecell” too, that's their new international brand name).

Turkcell's 3G modem was so popular that people tend to call 3G modems “VINN”s, which is what Turkcell branded their own installation of this as. While looking up resources for this, I saw many people calling the Vodafone 3G modems “vodafone VINNs”, though vodafone did themselves no favor by not having a decent name (they called it “vodem”). Avea's (nowadays called Turk Telekom Mobil) one was called “Avea Jet”, which was also rather memorable.

I'd also like to note that this isn't how this whole thing started, it existed before in some form or other, but they were even more obscure, and even more business oriented.

First they started with chunky modems, but after just a couple months moved to the USB modems (has low quality English hardsubs):

I personally don't know anyone who used the “chunky modems” as they were “chunky” and expensive (article says $189), but the USB stick ones popularized significantly.

The other operators jumped in on this, making their own variants:

You don't need to know Turkish to understand that these earlier ads are aimed at a white collar business crowd (though there are early examples of advertising towards a younger audience, such as this cursed ad).

Over the next couple years, prices went lower and lower, and adoption went up. Target demographic changed accordingly:

(Here's another Vodafone one that's rather generic, and another that's rather boring yet casual)

I don't have a good reason on why it was so popular, but one reason I can guess is the fact that ISPs in Turkey are a major pain in the back, and offer super slow speeds for large amounts of money. Currently, all major ISPs have a yearly or a biyearly contract requirement, with significant fees if you cancel the contract (one exception is TurkNet, they're working on getting their own infrastructure, but they're far from “major” still). I believe this was the same back then too.

These provided a nice way to have Internet wherever you go, not just at a fixed spot (can be a house you don't plan to live in for at least a year, can be your “vacation house”, can be a cafe, can be a park). Some of these did have contract requirements, but you at least had options that didn't require one, and even if you got into a contract, you could just take it with you when you moved. You didn't have to worry about infrastructure as long as the coverage was there.

Similarly, even though this was around the time we were starting to get decent smartphones, it was still not yet there. Things were slow, small and clunky, and to be fair, while social media and communications have definitely caught up, things still aren't the best when it comes to certain stuff like “productivity suites”.

These had really, really, REALLY bad software though, that did all sorts of hacks to work, were slow and prone to crashing (and Linux is a blessing when it comes to this, as you didn't have to deal with them):

(Image source)

(Image source)

(Also, apparently Turkcell wrote one of those horrible pieces of software for Windows 8. It states that that software only works with VINNs with Turkcell SIMs, btw.)

Around 2012, the WiFi variants of these popularized in Turkey. They allowed more users to connect (5-8), didn't involve using horrible software, and also worked on phones and tablets with wifi support. One example of these was the VINNWiFi:

(Turkcell previously offered this under the name “Multi VINN”)

I'm not too interested in these and won't talk much about them. Nowadays you can do the same task with any phone. Similarly, while I haven't messed with one so far, I imagine configuring it to work with any other carrier's SIM card wouldn't be as easy.

Over the years, popularity of this method of connecting to Internet gradually went down, with everyone I know either just getting a home connection (as you need Internet for many things these days) or using their phone to set up a hotspot. Or even just using their phone for everything (which is somewhat weird to me).

(Note: Turkey calls LTE “4.5G”. 4.5G is the same as 4G/LTE advertised anywhere else in the world.)

However, couple years back, Turkcell introduced “Superbox”es, promising fiber or even faster than fiber speeds. Considering that fiber coverage in Turkey isn't the best and that VDSL can get you around 75Mbps on a lucky day with a great connection (and more like 10Mbps if you're not so lucky), it seemed like a decent thing to introduce to the market, especially considering how Turkcell's 4.5G network is decent and I've personally seen it hit around 150Mbps or so (compare that to Vodafone where I've only seen upwards of 35Mbps or so).

However, these are pretty much where this retrospective started from: bulky GSM (well, in this case LTE) routers. Prices are sky high, there's quotas in place (as it's not a fixed internet connection), and reviews are horrible. 200GB quota at 4.5G speeds costs the same as unlimited 100Mbps fiber plan by Turkcell Superonline, and so does the unlimited 10Mbps plan. Yet people go for it anyways.

That's all for this retrospective. The point of this post was to help readers of my other post understand why they were once popular, but are not anymore, and subsequently why they're so easily available for so cheap.