Saturday, 12 April 2008

Going Mobile

On Wednesday, fed up of having no Internet access at my new place, I went and bought a Vodafone Mobile Connect ExpressCard, basically a PCMCIA card which allows you to access the Internet via HSDPA. It works out of the box in Windows Vista, but of course I didn't want that, I wanted it to work with Linux!

Trouble is, it's one of those chicken-and-egg situations - I needed Internet access to get to the information and programs necessary, and until I'd done that I couldn't get online. Thank goodness I had a Vista machine as well, which allowed me to find Vodafone's Betavine Forge site, which provides Linux drivers for Vodafone's mobile broadband devices.

I had opted for the PCMCIA card rather than the USB modem, because I've had bad experiences with USB wi-fi adapters, although I was keenly aware that USB is generally more likely to work than PCMCIA devices. But Kubuntu seemed to detect the device fine on startup, although you couldn't get anywhere from there on as the software on the card is for Windows.

So I downloaded the Linux drivers (the stable version1.99.17, rather than the beta, both of which were available as .deb packages, presumably designed for Ubuntu). Thing was, the Linux driver had rather a lot of dependencies, which themselves had other dependencies, meaning that it wasn't practical to get it working without already having an Internet connection. So I had to wait till I could use my parent's broadband at the weekend.

So the weekend came and I brought my laptop home, and logged onto the wireless network. First of all I did:
sudo apt-get -f install

to resolve the outstanding dependencies (there were a few, many of which themselves had further dependencies to resolve, so it did take a few minutes. Now, I could start up the application, but I didn't have the settings to get it working, namely the user name, password, and APN (Access Point Name), which the application prompted me for. A little Googling led me to this forum post which explained that the settings needed to be "internet" for the APN, and "web" for both the user name and password. After having done this, the card works perfectly in Kubuntu Gutsy!

It's very slow at my parent's house as there's no 3G coverage in Diss, just GPRS. But in Norwich where 3G coverage is near-total, it was a lot faster on my Vista laptop. Still significantly slower than connecting via wi-fi to my parent's broadband connection with TalkTalk (which I didn't appreciate earlier, but now realise is pretty damn fast and has a sky-high download limit, although it's worth taking the time to ditch their DNS servers and use OpenDNS instead for a faster and more reliable response), but it's faster than some of the dialup connections I've used in the past.

Word is that mobile broadband will become dominant by 2011, but for it to match landlines the mobile phone networks will need to invest very heavily in new infrastructure. I've noticed a big difference in speed between browsing around 7-8pm and around 11pm, significantly more so than when I was using my parent's wi-fi. It could potentially be very big, and with the price war going on between the mobile operators in the UK, it's reached the point where it's competitive with landlines on price, if not performance.

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