Cellular dongles

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Cellular dongles

Dave Flogeras
Mike:

I'll fork a new discussion here for anyone who's interested to follow/chime in, and not to railroad the existing conversation.


> I didn't know that if you have a non-smart "plain" cell phone, that
> the service attached to the SIM would automagically support data. 

Well, you'd still need to subscribe to a plan that supported data.  Depending on your needs, and/or provider affiliation you can usually get reasonable plans that are preferential to either calls/data.  For instance you can get a Virgin plan which has unlimited minutes in Canada, but pay as you go data.  Or, vice versa (well probably not unlimited data, but a load of it).  It all depends on how much you expect to use either.  The important takeaway though is that with newer equipment, your account is not tied to the phone hardware, but the SIM card which you are free to move from device to device.

> Does the "stick modem" to which you refer just allow you to do dialup
> over the cellular link?  Or does it behave like a wifi hotspot,
> getting you an IP address via DHCP?

Typically the modems will just connect to the carrier's network (digitally) as a client in a similar fashion that a smart phone does.  NB. I'm certainly no expert here, the one I purchased was used solely to test sending text messages from a remote place.  Also, not all of these dongles work the same way, and not all are supremely easy to configure in anything but Windose environments (so I've read). The first couple paragraphs of this page outlines some of the differences and possible pitfalls:


Now, that being said, I have also seen a device that is completely stand-alone that you put your SIM card into, and it just becomes a WiFi hotspot (as you asked).  Those are probably a bit more cash, but may be easier to deal with if you don't feel like going down a potential rabbit hole of kernel modules and/or network management software.

I'll see my uncle this week, who usually carries a work provided dongle around (he works in remote places).  I may be able to play around with it under Linux, or at least grab the model number and give you a specific starting point.  I can also find my old one and test it out as a network client.  However mine might not help you much, that model is probably no longer made (it was for older 3G networks I think).

> I need a sit-down (or maybe a series of them) with somebody that knows
> all this stuff and, additionally, can explain the varieties of
> functionality without lapsing into Deep Jargon.  (One person who

If you're going to be near HRM at any point, I'd gladly meet up for a coffee and transfer whatever limited knowledge I have.  I have pretty flexible work hours, so even if you were day tripping, I could probably find time.

> Didn't know that. Do you mean lots of preloaded "apps", like the
> teaser software packages that (allegedly) come with Windoes?  That you
> have to tediously extirpate?  Huh.  I believe the term is "blivet". ;-)
> Not keen on managing a digital blivet.

Not only, but also even the standard apps are heavy it seems to me.  For instance, I have an ageing Nexus phone.  This was a fast, flagship, higher end phone produced by Google.  The selling point was that it was a "pure" android experience with no extra manufacturer crap.  But even still, after ageing out the hardware, I keep getting bigger and more bloated software updates.  This means that even the default "phone" app (yes it's an app), or the text messaging app now feel much heavier than they did when the hardware was brand new.

All that tracking does take some MHz!  (Maybe this still does belong in the other thread :)  It never ceases to amaze (disappoint) me that my phone now struggles to handle the basics, and has multiple processors and more RAM than one of my 10+ year old laptops which is still useful for real work.

Finally, the amount of data that google services "sips" just sitting idle is fairly appalling.  Even after turning off every possible useless "feature" or "service" I could that might be doing things behind the scenes (without crippling the phone completely).  By my estimates, it is upwards of 2MB/day without me even using it.  I have a plan that more than covers my needs plus this overhead, so I don't care that much.  But if you were thinking of getting a smartphone with pay-as-you-go data, you'd have to manage it by remembering to always keep the phone's data in airplane mode when not in use.

My $0.02
Dave

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Re: Cellular dongles

Frank Geitzler

To add to the confusion, some of us have limited budgets for our hobbies, and either can't afford (or can't justify)  spending a great deal to buy new tools (or toys), or limited time, ability, or resources to learn how to use the devices we have.  I have a old Canon Canon PowerShot A480 camera, which takes reasonable pictures 'as is', and a number of features I have never gotten around to learning how to use -it has a cable which can be attached to my laptop, to download pictures, or I can simply pull the chip and plug that into the side of my laptop, and treat it as a USB device; I have a Hipstreet (Google?) Phoenix tablet which has an Android Jellybean o/s (although I gather there are a number of releases of Jellybean, not all being equal) which takes adequate pictures as well, and can be cable connected to my laptop -or I can transfer files and pictures via email to or from the tablet; the tablet also has bluetooth (as does my newest laptop) and a free-standing, bluetooth-connected keyboard, and the laptop has bluetooth as well.  I don't know enough about bluetooth to know its capabilities and make better use of its facilities. 

I also have a LG F4NR 'Flip-Phone' cell-phone, which again has an Android Jellybean o/s, but I have not been satisfied with the few pictures I have taken with it; it too has bluetooth, and I use the phone only to stay in touch with home; I have a payment plan where I must pay a minimum amount each month, and if my useage is less than the time-charges, the balance accumulates -I seldom exceed the minimum, but I keep receiving text messages from Bell-Aliant at the same time every month, within an hour of turning the phone on, wanting me to switch to a more expensive plan -which would give me additional features I don't want or can't use.  Several days ago I received seven such text messages -and I don't use it for texting -the keys are too small for my old fingers, so I haven't bothered to learn how to reply -even to say 'stop texting me'!

I would find it interesting to have one or more pre-arranged sessions where we could discuss and learn how to use cellular dongles -to find out their abilities and limitations, their connection details ('normal' USB, mini-, micro-, firewire-, or other USB, SIM -and what type and size, etc.), where they can be obtained and their approximate cost.  Perhaps one or more people locally might be interested in participating in such a session either at a regular Halifax Computer Club meeting (our next meeting is tomorrow evening, by the way).

Frank Geitzler 

On 2019-04-22 9:26 a.m., Dave Flogeras wrote:
Mike:

I'll fork a new discussion here for anyone who's interested to follow/chime in, and not to railroad the existing conversation.


> I didn't know that if you have a non-smart "plain" cell phone, that
> the service attached to the SIM would automagically support data. 

Well, you'd still need to subscribe to a plan that supported data.  Depending on your needs, and/or provider affiliation you can usually get reasonable plans that are preferential to either calls/data.  For instance you can get a Virgin plan which has unlimited minutes in Canada, but pay as you go data.  Or, vice versa (well probably not unlimited data, but a load of it).  It all depends on how much you expect to use either.  The important takeaway though is that with newer equipment, your account is not tied to the phone hardware, but the SIM card which you are free to move from device to device.

> Does the "stick modem" to which you refer just allow you to do dialup
> over the cellular link?  Or does it behave like a wifi hotspot,
> getting you an IP address via DHCP?

Typically the modems will just connect to the carrier's network (digitally) as a client in a similar fashion that a smart phone does.  NB. I'm certainly no expert here, the one I purchased was used solely to test sending text messages from a remote place.  Also, not all of these dongles work the same way, and not all are supremely easy to configure in anything but Windose environments (so I've read). The first couple paragraphs of this page outlines some of the differences and possible pitfalls:


Now, that being said, I have also seen a device that is completely stand-alone that you put your SIM card into, and it just becomes a WiFi hotspot (as you asked).  Those are probably a bit more cash, but may be easier to deal with if you don't feel like going down a potential rabbit hole of kernel modules and/or network management software.

I'll see my uncle this week, who usually carries a work provided dongle around (he works in remote places).  I may be able to play around with it under Linux, or at least grab the model number and give you a specific starting point.  I can also find my old one and test it out as a network client.  However mine might not help you much, that model is probably no longer made (it was for older 3G networks I think).

> I need a sit-down (or maybe a series of them) with somebody that knows
> all this stuff and, additionally, can explain the varieties of
> functionality without lapsing into Deep Jargon.  (One person who

If you're going to be near HRM at any point, I'd gladly meet up for a coffee and transfer whatever limited knowledge I have.  I have pretty flexible work hours, so even if you were day tripping, I could probably find time.

> Didn't know that. Do you mean lots of preloaded "apps", like the
> teaser software packages that (allegedly) come with Windoes?  That you
> have to tediously extirpate?  Huh.  I believe the term is "blivet". ;-)
> Not keen on managing a digital blivet.

Not only, but also even the standard apps are heavy it seems to me.  For instance, I have an ageing Nexus phone.  This was a fast, flagship, higher end phone produced by Google.  The selling point was that it was a "pure" android experience with no extra manufacturer crap.  But even still, after ageing out the hardware, I keep getting bigger and more bloated software updates.  This means that even the default "phone" app (yes it's an app), or the text messaging app now feel much heavier than they did when the hardware was brand new.

All that tracking does take some MHz!  (Maybe this still does belong in the other thread :)  It never ceases to amaze (disappoint) me that my phone now struggles to handle the basics, and has multiple processors and more RAM than one of my 10+ year old laptops which is still useful for real work.

Finally, the amount of data that google services "sips" just sitting idle is fairly appalling.  Even after turning off every possible useless "feature" or "service" I could that might be doing things behind the scenes (without crippling the phone completely).  By my estimates, it is upwards of 2MB/day without me even using it.  I have a plan that more than covers my needs plus this overhead, so I don't care that much.  But if you were thinking of getting a smartphone with pay-as-you-go data, you'd have to manage it by remembering to always keep the phone's data in airplane mode when not in use.

My $0.02
Dave

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Re: Cellular dongles

Dave Flogeras

On Tue, Apr 23, 2019 at 5:04 PM Frank Geitzler <[hidden email]> wrote:

I would find it interesting to have one or more pre-arranged sessions where we could discuss and learn how to use cellular dongles -to find out their abilities and limitations, their connection details ('normal' USB, mini-, micro-, firewire-, or other USB, SIM -and what type and size, etc.), where they can be obtained and their approximate cost.  Perhaps one or more people locally might be interested in participating in such a session either at a regular Halifax Computer Club meeting (our next meeting is tomorrow evening, by the way).

Frank Geitzler  


I did find my aforementioned 3G stick.  It is a "Movistar" [sic], but is just another name for Huawei E173.  They seem to be available under various names on ebay in the $20 range.

After a couple blind alleys (missing usb_option and various PPP kernel modules) I managed to make this work and surf for a minute to satisfy my curiosity.

Another thing to note on device (and from what I've read other cell sticks): they often are "USB composite" devices.  When first plugged in, they show up as a CDROM so that you can install the (presumably) outdated windows drivers.  After which, it does some magic and resets the USB device into another mode, where it shows up as a completely different Device ID (the modem).  Under Linux, you use a program called usb_modeswitch to do this.  Most modern distro's will handle this automatically, but YMMV.

Configuration under network manager wasn't too tricky, although for some reason the presets for Canadian carriers didn't show up automatically (even though they are in the mobile database provided with networkmanager).  I just looked up the APN that bell uses and typed it in and it worked for me.  More low level configurations would require more TLC if you don't wish to use a heavy tool like NM.  I think the tool wvdial is used for this.

Also, on the topic of SIM sizes.  AFAICT the various SIM sizes in use (mini, micro, nano) are all electrically identical, but mechanically different form factors.  Luckily their connectors are the same, they just vary in the amount of plastic around the connector.  In fact most carriers now give you a pop-out card, which is a bit like a russian doll where the innermost doll is the nano (or whatever the smallest is called today).  If you require the next size up, you just knock it out with the extra plastic.  If you are a packrat like me, you keep the bits so that when you need two sizes up you have it (such as today).  You can also buy the adapters online, or print them if you have access to a 3d printer (I had poor results when I tried that road).

I'll find out if my uncle's modem is any more/less pain in the ass tonight hopefully and report back.

Dave

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Re: Cellular dongles

Joel Maxuel

Also, on the topic of SIM sizes.  AFAICT the various SIM sizes in use (mini, micro, nano) are all electrically identical, but mechanically different form factors.  Luckily their connectors are the same, they just vary in the amount of plastic around the connector.  In fact most carriers now give you a pop-out card, which is a bit like a russian doll where the innermost doll is the nano (or whatever the smallest is called today).  If you require the next size up, you just knock it out with the extra plastic.  If you are a packrat like me, you keep the bits so that when you need two sizes up you have it (such as today).  You can also buy the adapters online, or print them if you have access to a 3d printer (I had poor results when I tried that road).


Good point to make - not uncommon for people to cut down a sim card for a newer device, since the electrical components tend to not sprawl that much in the plastic (or at least the chance drops considerably with newer SIM's that are not the russian-doll-style already).

Although if you keep the outer perimeters for future use as adapters, be very careful to keep the pieces flush with each other - you don't want the insert catching on your SIM tray pins or you'll have a bad day (this is in part why commercial adapters - like NOOSY - have been a thing however most of the time the problem can be solved with said free insert and scotch tape trimmed to size and on top of the combination).

--
Cheers,
Joel Maxuel

"One should strive to achieve, not sit in bitter regret."
 - Ronan Harris / Mark Jackson


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Re: Cellular dongles

Dave Flogeras
In reply to this post by Dave Flogeras
On Wed, Apr 24, 2019 at 10:19 AM Dave Flogeras <[hidden email]> wrote:

I'll find out if my uncle's modem is any more/less pain in the ass tonight hopefully and report back.


I didn't see my uncle until this week, but had a chance to try out the modem he has.  It's got a "bell" sticker on it, but under the hood it is a Novatel modem.  It is a similar dual-mode device that requires the usb_modeswitch package.  It first shows up as a CDRom with the USB vendor/product 1410:5010.  After switching to a modem, it becomes 1410:7030.

It worked out of the box with the same generic GSM drivers and network manager.

I forgot to take a picture of the Novatel sticker with the exact model number, but as far as I can tell it is in the "Ovation" lineup, and probably a MC99x device.  I can get the exact model next time I see him, but a quick look on ebay shows several options in the $20-30 range.

HTH
dave

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