Apr 22, 2019

Dancers are the athletes of God - Albert Einstein

Vodafone Mobile Broadband via USB Modem Stick

In an ideal world your mobile phone would act as a broadband modem for your PC. And as part of your package you would get a lot of internet use built in regardless of if you used the net on your phone or were doing things on your portable PC. This is possible but things conspire against it. You need the mobile to have Bluetooth to link to the portable – which rules out the iPhone for example. You also need a provider that doesn’t differentiate between phone and modem use – you have to dig around a lot to see what is possible but some only seem to do deals giving cheap prices for phone surfing.

And then there is what happens when you go abroad when you get stuffed at £6+ for a MB of data to a phone and your bill can rocket into hundreds. A trip to Majorca with my iPhone and T-Mobile sunsequently calculated I owed them £700+ and this when I have Web and Walk access that allows me ‘free’ net use in the UK. The bill was reduced to less than £100, for which I am grateful, but it also underlines that the price in the first place is based on silly money rather than actual real costs to provide the service. In Majorca, and anytime I am on the road, I really want good comms at a cheap price.

If you use a mobile as a modem then you also have battery life problems potentially. Putting it all into one I decided that I would shell out £15 a month on one of the USB modem packages that most mobile providers are doing now. And for a 2 year deal Vodafone currently chuck in their highest speed USB Modem – the E172. The call it a USB Modem Stick and it can do speeds up to 7.2Mbps (twice ‘normal’ speed). They are rolling out the higher speed across the country but all you need to know is that it’s fast enough already really. For the £15 you get 3GB of monthly use and £15/GB if you go over – not the end of the world but not something you want to do. More details here:

The reason I went with Vodafone is that they are always said to have the fullest network in the UK and sometime I go up to the Outer Hebrides where mobile connections can be very hard to find at times. But the clincher was that in Europe and (currently) USA, Australia and a few other destinations, you get mobile for £10/day – up to 50MB anway. That’s not a lot of data but it is enough. I’m not aware of any other provider offering such a deal. So my 2 weeks in Majorca would have cost £140 rather then £750 (and for much, much, more data too).

Vodafone USB modem in use.
It’s nominally easy to use – plug in and it bursts into life running Vodafone Mobile Light which is held on the modem itself. There are some gotchas

1) It doesn’t seem to like being plugged into some USB hubs and either doesn’t work or locks up. I can only currently get it to work by plugging into the one USB(1) connection I have.

2) Using the Light software all the images presented on web pages are sent in a highly compressed form and look terrible. If you need to show clients pages, it is not good. It’s a shame you can’t configure the standard software another way.

3) To get decent pictures you have to download the full version of Vodafone Mobile onto your computer. You then plug in the Modem – it fires up the Light version and then you run the full version which after a while, displaces the Light. But I’ve occasionally had problems when it does not and there seems to be a tussle wbtween the two for conrol of teh hardware. It’s not as slick as it should be really.

Checking How much Data you are using
Given the costs of going over I want a rock solid way of measuring how much I am using. The Vodafone Mobile software tracks this but how well I don’t know. However while its nice to have a good local way of monitoring use the thing that ultimately matters is Vodafones servers and how much they think I have used. So it makes sense to register with the website and get access to definitive information on use. Sadly this is not at all slick.

Registering with Vodafone and checking data use
Registration problems.
As part of registration Vodafone send a message to the mobile you are using and you type that message immediately into a box to complete registration. But I don’t have a mobile so can’t do this!

I rang up support and got a nice lady who took a long time to realise she didn’t have a clue and I got put through to somebody technical who was very on the ball. And it turns out to be a problem they know about but don’t have a decent solution for. The proposal was that you plug the data Sim into a mobile phone in order to see the registration message they send. I pointed out to the man that most phones were locked to the mobile comms supplier and I was not with Vodafone… But there was no other advice and definite ‘not possible’ when I asked if teh account could be manualy setup by them. 4 phones later I found one I could use and manged to register. How rubbish is that I ask you.

Seeing Data Use
What you want is something like this:

Account Plan:     3000MB/Month
Used to Date (*): 40.6Mb
Estimated Use for month: 2345MB
(*)up to midnight last night.

You obviously want to know where you are, what your allowance is and if you carry on as you are what you are likely  to use in the month.

What you get is tens and hundreds of line entries of what data connections were made. This is nice info but what you need is a total of all these entries and you don’t get it. You can though download all the data in a form to run through Excel but even that is a pain because each data item comes tagged ‘109.085 KB’, so you have to get rid of all the ‘ KB”s from the column before you can sum it up to get the big number. I assume Vodafone make this difficult so you are more likely to go over limit and incur extra costs.

I guess what I will do is compare what the Modem tells me on use and what Vodafone servers say and hopefully after finding full agreement will just use the Modem numbers.

Asus EEE 900 Linux and Vodafone USB Modem Stick
I have one of these and I plugged the Vodafone modem in and it worked. I have no idea if optimal drivers are being used but it seems to be as fast as on Windows and I think its brilliant of Asus to arrange this – deeply impressed that I don’t have to do anything. That said Vodafone also have a Research group site and one of the things they seem to have is software for a variety of devices in the pipeline (and it was another reason I plumped for Vodafone in the first place):

Current Conclusion
It works fine – but as with much technology it’s not actually as slick to setup, end to end, as I had hoped.


6 Responses to “Vodafone Mobile Broadband via USB Modem Stick”

  1. Damian Breen on September 26th, 2008

    Really useful and inforamtive comments about the use of mobile modems. I was searching for information about being able to use a Vodafone mobile stick on the Asus Linux PC and there it was, confirming that you can indeed use the Vodafone stick on the Linux based ASUS.
    So good news!

  2. Hazel on December 16th, 2008

    I had a Acer Aspire given to me as a birthday gift and wanted to connect to the internet using my phone on Vodaphone’s Mobile Internet & E-mail pakage for £5 a month but was told that, it was ‘different usage’ and would be more expensive that way.

    I found this article very informative. I would like to know why it matters WHERE the data is going to (mobile or laptop)? The mobile phone companies have been ripping us off for far too long|!

  3. admin on December 17th, 2008

    “I would like to know why it matters WHERE the data is going to (mobile or laptop)? The mobile phone companies have been ripping us off for far too long|!”

    You are right and I suspect over time mobile data will become cheaper and less restrictive. It’s like the early days of mobile phones and then the early days of SMS on mobile phones and then the early days of international mobile calling – it all starts expensive (very) and then slowly competition and the regulator get to grips with it.

    I think the phone companies at the moment tout unlimited use for mobiles, though in reality there is always a cap, and I suspect the cap is well high enough for what most people will do on a small screen. But when people surf with a portable pc the consumption of bandwidth will go up – more complex pages will be looked at and more of them too, on average, I think. So the mobile companies differentiation at the moment is about trying to keep a cap on data use for a given charge. It all comes down to money and sooner or later it will free up more. But my own feeling, as i put in my blog, is that using a mobile as a data bridge is a great idea and good for emergencies for sure, but the reality is that they don’t really have the battery umph for the job. It’s also the case that portables are increasingly featuring inbuilt mobile comms modules – just slot your sim in and away you go. I think within 18 months even the cheapest portables will all have this and we will all have 2 sims, one in the phone and one in the PC for more serious surfing on the move.

    and thanks for posting!

  4. gary on February 23rd, 2009

    they robbed me, I ended up going over and they charged me bucket loads. I have since realised that I always went over but they never charged me previously so I always assumed I was within the 3GB limit and therefore continued with my usage as before. Needless to say they won’t get a penny and I will go to court if necessary because it is unreasonable and there is no way of monitoring your usage which I asked for at the start because I wanted to use it responsibly.

    Don’t touch it is my advice!

  5. Joseph on May 15th, 2009

    Vodafone have a product where you can use your phone for as a broadband modem for your PC. They quote:

    “Vodafone Mobile Broadband via the phone enables you to use your phone as a modem to make a fast internet connection from your PC, without any complex set-up process.”

    Take a look at http://www.business.vodafone.com/site/bus/public/enuk/support/10_productsupport/10_via_the_phone/05_summary/p_summary.jsp for more information.

  6. admin on July 22nd, 2009

    Gary: Appreciate the frustration at times but if Vodafone seriously failed you it would be best to take it up with them. With Vodafone and T-mobile I complained about some data comms billing issues and in both cases got a sensible outcome. I think anybody using mobile data would be very daft not to track their use. Phones allow this and also the dongle I talk about here easily tracks the amount of data used. If you have a 3GB limit you are really asking for trouble to go over it.

    Joseph: Er yes – nothing new here I think and I noted deals were out there. However, at the time, I could not see see any cheap deals around the page you point at mentions not a thing about costs. And there is no link saying “Costs” either. Most of the sites are pretty opaque like this – some big headline numbers on the home page and then difficulty around details costs and contracts etc. But all moves on and I now see there is talk of the iPhone being used for tethered PC connection now… if at a cost of £15 extra a month for 3GB. Not a great deal really. I still however think its not so good to use your phone this way unless you have a few huge batteries (not the case on the iPhone) or use a cable link to power the phone from the PC = messy.

    Apologies both for not responding sooner.

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