Mobile Broadband on Linux

Note: There’s more info on this subject here. So take a look if this post doesn’t do it for you.

Be aware that all my experience of this subject is based on Ubuntu. If you use another Linux distro, YMMV. If you’re using Windows or OSX… you’ll probably be better off looking elsewhere.

Some time ago I bought a new phone – Sony Ericsson K800i. It’s a 3G phone, so I was pretty stoked: at last I’d be able to get a decent connection speed when linking my PC to the internet through this baby. And I was right: I get between 40 and 100 Kps (320-800 Kbps). Maybe those of you with wired broadband connections think this is dead slow. It probably is, to you. But to someone who’s previously had to depend on a sluggish GPRS connection, my new phone is like amphetamine on crack.

And it is so much easier to connect via this phone than it was through my previous handsets. All I need to do with my K800i is:

1. Press Menu > Settings > Connectivity > USB > USB Internet;

2. Select USB Internet On;

3. Connect phone to PC with USB datacable (the K800i also has bluetooth and infrared, but my computer is not equipped for such things);

4. Select Phone Mode;

and that’s it! The Ubuntu network manager detects the phone and automagically sets up the connection. Sweet or what! (Remember, this is with the Sony Ericsson K800i. Other phones will be different.

Unfortunately, it isn’t always like that. I don’t know if it’s just my phone or what, but connection is very unreliable. It cuts out erratically, and I haven’t found a fix yet. So on bad days I find I have to use wvdial to connect. I’ve described this in detail before – I’m not going to go into it again. Click here to go to the wvdial tutorial.

Thing is, mobile phone service providers have got something against their customers using their cellphones this way. It’s called “tethering”, and it is generally banned in the Terms and Conditions they make you agree to when you get your phone. And some providers actively block tethering. My provider obviously doesn’t block it. But that might change any day.

Why do they dislike tethering? Because they want you to buy a Mobile Broadband USB modem, and pay an inflated rate for mobile internet connection. Rip-off merchants!

Because I wanted another way to connect to the internet other than my phone, I bought one of these USB modems – a Vodafone K3565, aka the Huawei E160X. To connect via this device, Vodafone (UK) charge me £15 per GB of data transferred. This is shockingly expensive compared to what I pay for connection through my cellphone (£2.50 for 5 days’ “unlimited” browsing). But it is a better connection much of the time, when I get Vodafone’s HSDPA signal. Transfer speeds over HSDPA can get as highh as 160 Kps (1280 Kbps). But if I’m in an area with no HSDPA or 3G signal, I get snail’s rate GPRS. Which hurts when you’re paying the con men so much.

It’s also extremely easy to connect an Ubuntu PC to the internet via a Huawei dongle. Similar to the phone: plug it in, wait a short while, and the network manager detects the device and connects. The first time you connect the dongle to the computer, network manager throws up a mobile broadband wizard, which asks you a few questions about your service provider etc. And that’s it. Well, usually that’s it. Sometimes you have to manually edit the settings before it’ll work. But that will depend on whose service you’re using.

Also, I understand that although Huawei devices play nice with Ubuntu, some other manufacturers’ models don’t. If that’s the case for you, wvdial is probably the answer. Again, click here to find out how to use wvdial.

There’s another solution, if you’re having problems: an app called Vodafone Mobile Connect. Don’t let the word “Vodafone” in the name put you off – it actually works with devices on any provider’s networks. I used it for a while very successfully. I can’t give you any real advice about it, as it’s in constant “beta” development. But the only reason I stopped using it was the fact that Ubuntu’s network manager does the job just fine. It’s certainly worth checking out if you’re having problems. There are binaries available for many Linux distros.

Well, I think that’s about it. So, let me just wish you the best of luck in connecting to the internet with your device. And I’ll bid you farewell!

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3 Responses to Mobile Broadband on Linux

  1. […] on this subject, especially concerning mobile broadband HSDPA modems and 3G cellphones, to be found here. But the info on this page is still relevant. In particular, this page covers the program wvdial, […]

  2. Tokyo Drifter says:

    I did everything I could to get mobile broad band to work on my linux desktop and failed. So, Finally I enabled network sharing between my wifes Windows os desktop and my linux desktop. Now I have internet in linux. I did not have to change any settings in linux. On the windows unit I went to internet connections. Then to the icon of the cricket mobile broadband. I clicked on properties then enabled network sharing. Hopefully in the near future new releases of linux will overcome this problem.

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