Tag Archives: vodafone

This is the age of the train…

About once or twice a month I find myself on a train travelling to some far flung exotic location, like London, Leeds or Birmingham! Though more often then not it is the First Great Western train to London.

As I travel I like to try and get some work done in the time I have available. One key aspect of my job is communication and for that I need a decent internet connection. First Great Western, unlike some other train operating companies does not provide wifi on their services.  So what is one to do?

I have over the last few years used different ways of getting online on the train, all of them though have involved 3G.

Well recent tests show, as reported by the BBC that:

Mobile broadband speeds are improving but coverage is getting more patchy, suggests a survey.

The survey was…

…carried out by analysts from comparison site Broadband Genie, the annual test involved using dongles from UK mobile operators during a long train journey.

Interestingly…

T-Mobile came out top in the tests because it racked up higher speeds and proved more reliable during the tests.

So how do I use 3G on the train and with what services?

My original way of getting online was with a 3G PC Card from Vodafone, however this went once I changed jobs back in 2006.

I then had an 3G Dongle from Vodafone. This actually worked quite well, some dropped connections, but once within a 3G area, a good speed both up and down. I did notice though that more often then not, I could not get 3G speeds and the connection dropped to GPRS speeds. The main problem with the dongle is that it sticks out and on cramped trains this can be problematic.

After getting a T-Mobile contract phone (with Walk’n’Web Plus) I was able to use the phone as a tethered Bluetooth modem to connect to the internet at 3G speeds. The main disadvantage with this process was the impact that both Bluetooth and 3G had on battery life of the phone. The upside for me was a more reliable and faster connection.

Using a Nokia N95 I was able to use JoikuSpot on the Nokia, this shares the 3G connection over WiFI. This has one key advantage JoikuSpot allows more than one device to connect. A simple idea which just works. Basically it turns my Nokia N95 into a wireless hotspot, allowing me to connect multiple wireless devices to my phone’s 3G internet connection. I start JoikuSpot and once started I can then join the wireless and surf the internet. This was really useful allowing both my laptop and an iPod touch to connect to the internet using the single 3G connection. The Light version only really does internet, it doesn’t allow e-mail or https for example, whereas the Premium version does; this is the reason I upgraded to the Premium version and very pleased I am with it. The main downside is the impact it has on the battery life on the Nokia N95, down to less than four hours, often less!

I used this process for a fair amount of time, made easier when First Great Western introduced power sockets on their trains. Swapping over to the Vodafone 3G dongle if the signal failed or was weak.

I have recently tried a couple of other options, the first was not as successful as I would have hoped and that was the MiFi.

So what’s the MiFi? A battery powered 3G wireless router. Using a 3G SIM it would connect to the internet and then allow  up to five wireless clients to connect and share that 3G connection. With a four hour battery life, could be charged via USB and about the size of a credit card. Using a SIM from a Vodafone 3G USB dongle it was very simple to set up and configure and I would recommend that you use the details from Ross Barkman’s excellent website on connection settings for GPRS/3G to save having to work out where the information is on your providers’ website.

However one of the downsides for me was that though the MiFi worked a treat in stationary location (say at a conference) it was less satisfactory when travelling by train. What seemed to happen was that when the MiFi lost its 3G connection, as does happen on a train, it would switch itself off. As a result you had to check now and again and see if it needed turning back on. This also had an impact on the WiFi connection on my Mac laptop, which even when the MiFi was back on would not re-connect back to the MiFi wireless. In the end the experience was so unsatisfactory that I stopped using the MiFi on trains as a wireless router. The nice thing about the MiFi is that it will work as a USB 3G dongle, so you can use the MiFi in your event and meeting as a wireless router and revert to the dongle mode when on the train.

I have recently switched from the Nokia N95 to the Google Nexus One that runs the Android operating system. There is no JoikuSpot for the Nexus One and I am not 100% on how or even if it is possible to use it as a Bluetooth modem. One thing I have tried is PDAnet that allows me to use the Nexus One as a tethered 3G modem.

One thing I have noticed though is that though my 3G connection from Bristol to London is pretty good, travelling on the Voyager trains from Bristol to Birmingham, the signal is really poor.

I initially thought this was just down to the route, but I have heard that the main issue is the construction of the train and the metallised windows. This basically blocks the 3G signal!

I have used various methods to get online on the train and though each have their disadvantages and advantages, I think I prefer the 3G dongle, though the wifi methods are neater.

iPhone gets it about a bit

O2 have had an exclusive deal with Apple over the iPhone in the UK, that is all about to change with the news that both Orange and Vodafone have secured a deal with Apple to provider their customers with the iPhone in the next few months.

This may cause extra competition and bring down the price of both the phone and the tariffs and then again maybe not if the demand for the iPhone remains high.

Making the iPhone available on other mobile phone networks will mean that customers (and therefore learners) will be able to get the iPhone (say as an upgrade) and don’t need to change networks or their number. Yes I know you can move your number, sometimes easy and sometimes not.

Over one million iPhones were sold by O2 and it wouldn’t surprise me to see this figure rise faster with the iPhone on the Orange and Vodafone networks.

With the iPhone going to Vodafone and Orange (and thus T-Mobile eventually) it will be available on most networks.

The iPhone is getting cheaper, with more competition it may get cheaper still.

The iPhone is getting competitors edgy and therefore will start to look at how they can improve their products.

The iPhone will get better, the 3GS is significantly better than the 3G in my opinion (and I have used both).

The iPhone may get bigger (ie the Apple Tablet) we need to be prepared for that. Both Apple and Microsoft appear to be edging into the e-book (and e-journal) market after the success of Amazon’s Kindle.

The iPod touch is not a phone, as a result has huge potential in schools who may be concerned about contract costs, etc…

It will be easier more than ever to get the iPhone.

Will it change learning?

No.

Not on its own.

Mobile Broadband too slow

3gdongle

From BBC News.

A survey by comparison site Broadband Expert suggests that UK mobile broadband providers are delivering services “far lower than advertised”.

Almost three and a half thousand broadband connections were tested over a five month period.

The firm found that users recorded an average download speed of 1.1Mbs, substantially lower than advertised.

The advertised speeds are sometimes in my opinion a bit over the top, for example Vodafone advertise 7.2Mbps which is really fast, however though I believe I have had that speed probably once, in London, I generally get a much lower speed.

However I agree with the expert critcism of the report, this is mobile broadband we’re talking about, though I would like to get a consistent 7.2Mbps I know that the technology doesn’t work that way. If I am moving, if other people are using their 3G devices, buildings, the weather and other stuff.

I have been pleased with my Vodafone 3G and T-Mobile 3G speeds, what are your 3G experience like? Do some people have high expectations for a technology which personally I am surprised works at all.

Photo source.

WiFi, no MiFi

So you want to be connected to the internet on the move? Or you need connectivity at a conference without wifi?

Yes you could get a 3G USB dongle or stick, but that only allows a single computer to connect.

What happens if you also want to connect your mobile device, a second laptop, what happens if there is more than one person and only one dongle?

In the past the solution I used was Joikuspot which was an application which ran on my Nokia N95 phone. It acted as a wireless access point, it connected to the internet via 3G and then shared that connection over the phone’s wifi connection with other devices. It was a very clever technology which made life easier for me. There were a few downsides, the main was battery life, it drained battery from the N95 really fast, so was only useful for an hour or two or when the phone was plugged into the mains. Of course this meant that I couldn’t use the N95 as a phone, as the battery would be drained. Another problem I had was with devices such as the Nokia N810 and Sony PSP which would not connect to the Joikuspot wireless network. The reason was a limitation in the Symbian software which meant that the phone acted in ad-hoc mode for wireless rather than infrastructure. The N810 and PSP had issues with connecting to an ad-hoc network. It did however work fine with the iPod touch which was how I mainly used it.

I was very interested to hear from Andy Ihnatko on MacBreak Weekly about the MiFi. A battery powered 3G wireless router. Using a 3G SIM it would connect to the internet and then allow  up to five wireless clients to connect and share that 3G connection. With a four hour battery life, could be charged via USB and about the size of a credit card, it seemed ideal. Of course I didn’t expect to see it in the UK, probably only available in the US on Verizon or Sprint…

mifi2

I did an internet search (as you do) and found it on sale at Expansys (without a contract). Ordered and delivered.

Using a SIM from a Vodafone 3G USB dongle it was  very simple to set up and configure and I would recommend that you use the details from Ross Barkman’s excellent website on connection settings for GPRS/3G to save having to work out where the information is on your providers’ website.

You can configure it wirelessly, and the first things I did was rename the wireless network and add WPA2 security.

Once configured it is simply a matter of turning it on, waiting for it to connect and then connect your laptop (or other device) to the wireless network.

It works very well and felt faster than using the USB dongle!

One problem I have had is the MacBook Pro losing the wireless connection and being unable to re-connect with the result the only solution was to reboot the MiFi. I am now trying just WPA as I think it is a MacBook Pro wireless issue rather than a MiFi issue. Or it could be an issue with the fact I was on a train!

I do like the MiFi and it does what it says on the tin.

You can now get the MiFi from 3 on a contract or as PAYG. This is much “cheaper” than buying the unlocked MiFi, but of course you get less flexibility as a result.

Got a 3G Dongle? Know your limit!

So have you got a 3G dongle?

Do you know your limit?

Do you know how much you will be charged if you go over that limit?

If you’re on O2 and go over by just 1GB you would be facing a £100 bill!

The BBC reports on the issue of 3G bandwidth caps on mobile broadband services.

Mobile broadband users face stiff penalties for exceeding their download limits even though most aren’t aware of what those limits are.

I use a Vodafone 3G dongle and though the Windows software (on a single computer) does measure how much data use the Mac connection software (in other words what I normally use) doesn’t. Generally I guess that my usage is fine as I don’t use the dongle everyday and rely on my home and work internet connections and not just the mobile broadband connection.

However I know some people and some learners have a 3G dongle for their internet and that’s it! Using a 3G dongle everyday would be getting close to their limits if they were downloading podcasts and watching online video.

Do you have a 3G dongle? Do you know your limit?