3x 3G modems

I recently bought a new notebook (HP 6930p) and made sure it also comes with extra antennas (next to the WLAN antennas on top of the display) so that I could install a Wireless Wide Area Network (WWAN, pictured below) adapter which I had to buy separately.

HP un2400 wwan adapter on the HP 6930p

The good part about this wwan adapter – an HP un2400, also known as Qualcomm Gobi 1000 – is that it supports different frequency bands so it can work in many different parts of the world. This, however, and maybe that it is hidden under a cover inside this computer so you don’t have to carry extra gadgets, is the only good part about this modem.

My other computer is a netbook which also has a wwan modem – an Asus eeePC 1000HG. Just slip in your SIM card (underneath the battery), boot into WindowsXP or Ubuntu and you’re ready to go online, simple as that.

HUAWEI EM770 Mobile Broadband modem on the eeePC 1000HG

The HP un2400 modem on my HP notebook, though, will ONLY work when the (main) battery is inserted. HP names “carrier certifications” as the reasons for this requirement as:

  • This prevents SIM fraud
  • This prevents any possible corruption if the SIM is removed while the notebook PC powers on


Just to remind you: the 3g modem on my Asus eeePC will work either way – whether the battery is inserted or not, it just works.

And then there’s this thing called “Firmware” – which also is a very peculiar process on the HP modem. Whereas most gadgets will normally come with their own (preloaded) Firmware (which may or may not be updated by end users), this Qualcomm Gobi modem requires an initial load of the firmware prior to its use (HP’s Connection Manager will take care of this under Windows XP). Once you restart your computer, you will have to reload the firmware. The only possible reason for this – to my understanding – is that it enables the modem to adjust to different wwan environments. But that’s about it. Needless to mention that you won’t find any drivers for this device for Win7, and I’ve only come across a few users who managed to get this device working under Ubuntu after lots of fiddling.

And again, no problems with my netbook & its Huawei EM770 3g modem. Real plug & play, regardless of the operating system.

“So where’s the problem?”, you may ask, “aren’t laptops/notebooks and netbooks designed to be run from battery power anyways?” – Well, yes, BUT! I always remove the battery on my notebook when I’m about to connect it to a stable power supply for a longer period. Like when I plug it into the docking station at home, I always remove the battery. I do this to save it from being constantly charged. It’s a precaution that helps me keeping the battery at ~90% initial charging capacity after three years usage (as seen on my old HP nx8220 notebook). It’s a proven method that worked for me and saved me from spending another EUR 80,- on a spare battery.

And the worst part about this wwan adapter is that HP locked the BIOS to _ONLY_ use these modems. It wouldn’t be possible to use the 3G modem from the eeePC on the HP notebook.


Now, this is the part where I actually want to talk about alternatives to these internal solutions, which are often still considered to be the optimal solution. As described above, it’s a not-so-perfect solution for those who want to use other operating systems then Windows XP and/or Vista. It’s an epic fail that HP still needs to realize. An epic fail on all of their “EliteBooks” as HP calls this series (HP 2530p, 6930p, 8530p).

The eeePC I have is also available without such a 3g modem – the price difference used to be EUR 100,- less. People (not me, I got it cheaper :-) actually paid this difference in order to get a netbook with an internal 3g modem. As for the eeePC, the price difference is (was) justified as you had to cough up about the same amount for an external modem some time ago.

However, now, in September 2009, things are a bit different. Be it Germany or Kenya, you’re actually able to get an external USB-based 3g modem for something like EUR 20,- to 30,- – which is a decent price, I’d say. Sure, you could even get it for less (in Germany) if you go for a 24month contract with a network provider but I am only talking about prepaid solutions here.

the popular Huawei E169

And these USB sticks are the very reason for blogging all this. I think that these external 3g modems are still the best solution for the following reasons:

  • they are supported by different operating systems & often well documented on the internet
  • they often come with their own software so you won’t have to worry about that part
  • power consumption on these devices is moderate, also because they are easier to remove (and wouldn’t require a software switch on the OS) – just unplug them
  • some of these sticks come with an extra socket for an external (UMTS) antenna
  • some of these sticks come with an extra flash memory capacity
  • they are relatively cheap these days
  • they can be used on more than one computer – just unplug them and hand them over to your friends (provided you have an unlimited data plan)

The disadvantage of course is that you’d have an extra device at the side of your notebook which blocks one of the often limited USB ports.

In the past I’ve also used thethering my Nokia phone to the computer and using its 3G capabilities to surf the net; and on my old & beloved (and now sold) HP nx8220 notebook I had used a PCMCIA (PC-Card) version of these 3G modems which I blogged about earlier. The PCMCIA version worked fine, albeit the PCMCIA port being known for quickly draining the battery (which also became obvious as it heated up pretty quickly). My new HP notebook has an ExpressCard slot, so this could also be an alternative if USB ports are really limited and already used for other devices.

To be honest, with this limitation of the internal 3G modem on my HP 6930p to Windows XP & Vista (and probably also Win7 one day), I’d probably go for another machine in future. I actually don’t know about the 3G modems on a Dell E6400 or Lenovo T400(s) – all of them seem to come with a Gobi device these days -, but I hope they aren’t as crippled as this Qualcomm Gobi? HP uses on their EliteBooks.? And signal strength (RX/TX ratio) actually isn’t so much better with the internal antennas which have to compete with the WLAN antennas for the limited space above the display. However, I understand that it isn’t the modem which sucks (some websites claim it even comes with an internal GPS chip?!) but rather HP’s policy which prevents us from using alternative operating systems and even locks the system down to this device only.

And with my policy of drawing a clear line between user data and the operating system + hardware, the external USB modem is just so much more convenient. It’s a plug & play device that adds modularity & flexibility to the system.

Powaa Laini

I never thought this would actually work. But it does.

We currently share a room in this row/town house, right under the roof. The DSL modem that connects this house to the internet is in the basement, and I have in the past used this Edimax router as a repeater for the wireless signal (not WDS-mode!) so that we could also enjoy the connectivity to the internet with our computers upstairs (see fig.01):


There are two floors in between the basement and our “penthouse” flat and the wireless signal would often fail to work, even though the data rate was quite good on the repeater. I think there is a microwave somewhere near our repeater and the base station in the neighbouring house which just jams the signal quality. Both the DSL modem-router-wlan-ap and the repeater upstairs had been tuned with 4dB antennas.

Wireless networks unfortunately tend to have the nasty habbit of interfering each other, especially if there isn’t enough “space” on the frequency range. And then, also, most of these conventional (= IEEE 802.11) wireless networks are still to fragile to deliver consistent data rates. By the time I set this network up in late 2007, most of our neighbours still didn’t have their own WLANetwork, but today most of them have do so it was about time for a change.

prod 87d83a2bfc06148cebf7aea5ab39cc6aI had read about these “HomePlugs” – the “industry trade group for power line communication” which is a technology that connects LAN devices to each other through the power lines in a home. The manufacturers of these devices claim that it will only work on the same (electrical) phase, and since this house also has an electrical heating system and a second fuse box under the roof (next to the one in the basement), I initially thought it wouldn’t work. But it does!


Fig.02 shows the current setup using two HomePlugs I’ve bought earlier this week. There are different manufacturers selling kits with two such plugs – mine was relatively cheap – an “MSI ePower 85 Kit Version II“. MSI claims this device to deliver up to 85 Mbps in optimal conditions but the actual rate is around 30 Mbps which is perfectly fine with me as our DSLine currently is around 8Mbps only. It’s also said to have 56bit DES encryption and you can also give it its own network name. The best part is the installation: Just open the box, take a plug and connect a LAN cable to it and the other end of the cable into your LAN device (here: the DSL modem router) and plug it into the next socket (I’ve even used an extension cable which shouldn’t be done but it still works). I then plugged in the other plug to a wall socket upstairs and connected it to an 8-port 10/100 switch which distributes the signal to all four computers as well as a VoIP phone and an HP OfficeJet 7210 network printer. This MSI ePower Kit comes with utility software to set extra parameters such as a network name or the password (which unfortunately only runs on Windows systems), but you won’t have to adjust anything. Just plug it in and you’re done!

I was a bit sceptical if this would work out due to the additional power network in this house + possible intereferences that would spoil the reception of shortware radio (many radio hams actually hate this technology), but it just works like a charm and even my radioscanner hasn’t complained yet.

For anyone who’s been having problems with a wireless network – if the voltage is more or less stable (= probably not in Kenya?), I’d recommend these HomePlug/powerline devices as the perfect alternative to having (longer) LAN cables from one room to the other or even an unstable wireless connection.

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