Thursday, 10 March 2011

An Initial Trial for Onboard Mobile Communications

I’ve already written about our plans for internet communication whilst on Waiouru.  Rather than discover on arrival in the UK that my plan in infeasible, I decided to experiment prior to leaving Australia.  The first step has been to purchase an internet usb dongle.  After some serious research, I identified the preferred device would be a Huawei E169 modem.  Of course nothing is easy and the dongles aren’t branded as Huawei.  This is an experiment so I don’t want to purchase a mobile broadband plan or sing a contract.  I also needed an unlocked dongle if we are taking it to the UK.  Waiouru is going to have an external antenna on the roof so the dongle will need an external antenna socket.  The Huawei E169 has an external socket.  I also want a local wireless network throughout the boat and am looking at either a Zoom wireless router or a Solwise.  I had previously confirmed both routers are compatible with this model modem. 

Looking around on eBay I noticed there was a used Huawei E169 for sale that was almost at the end of the bidding period.  It was branded Virgin Broadband however the seller stated it had been unlocked.  I successfully placed a bid for $26 and the modem arrived in today’s mail.

Here you can see I’ve taken the cap off the USB plug and extracted the SIM card holder.

There is a very small cap covering the socket for the external antenna lead.

On the other edge of the modem is a cap covering a micro SD flash memory card slot.  From memory I think the maximum size card is 4GB.  The gives the modem a dual purpose as both a modem and a 4GB USB storage stick.  The laptop has recognised the modem and the onboard Virgin software installed.

We need to purchase a SIM card and some pre-paid internet time.  Virgin Australia uses the Optus network and Telstra is on another frequency so I either need to purchase some time with Optus or Vodafone.  The latter can’t provide coverage in the location where we will spend our last month prior to departing for the UK so the decision is really a “no brainer”.  Either Virgin or Optus, and they both use the Optus network.  Virgin looks to have the cheaper deal!  The only possible problem is the modem software might not work with another carrier when we get to the UK.  I’ll have to fix that should the problem arise.

Now I need to purchase the “pigtail” which is the connecting cable between the model external antenna socket and the plug on the end of the external antenna.  This is the final reason why I wanted to purchase the modem before we left Australia.  The plan is to purchase a SIM card and “pigtail” this weekend to test the configuration works.


Pete said...

I've got to say that both routers look appalling. I've just bought a Netgear MBR642GU tied up with a T-Mobile ZTE dongle and my wifi bubble works brilliantly and ZTE dongles are not the most compatible. All Huawei dongles will work with it.

Don't make it all more complicated than it needs to be. Certainly don't rush in to buy an ipad. A cheap netbook is more than enough for most anyone, unless of course, you have more money than sense.


Tom and Jan said...

Hello Pete,

Question - Will the Netgear run directly on 12v DC or does it require 240v AC?

I won't be purchasing an iPad (too expensive)!

Pete said...

At the moment I have it on 240v however there is a cigarette socket accessory for it so my next project will be to wire it up to the 12 v system.