I decided it would be worth getting a 3G broadband dongle for my Ubuntu laptop so I had a look through all of the ones available. The main problem with them seems to be that the bandwidth credit runs out after one month even if it has not all been used. This makes some appear to be cheaper than others, but if you are a light user then in the long run these cheaper tariffs could be very expensive.
Having reviewed them all I decided on a Vodafone UK K3565 Prepay USB Mobile Broadband Dongle from Amazon.co.uk for £29.99 which included1Gb of data (worth £15 on its own). This is Vodafone's branded version of the Huawei E160X 3G USB modem.
It can be topped up at £15 for 1GB. This should work out very cheaply for me as I am only an occasional user. I used to have a Vodafone dongle on contract through my business for £20 per month, but was only using about 250MB per month. I don't think my laptop usage has changed that dramatically so its likely to cost me about £4 per month, plus there is no monthly fee so if I don't use it, its no loss.
However, and its a big however, Vodafone are changing their PAYG broadband tariff. Some of the newer coloured dongles are selling for £25 with £10 top ups BUT the top ups expire after one month. This could be a lot more expensive so beware. Read the small print before ordering.
When the dongle arrived I opened the box I found there was a USB extension cable in with it. I have been using one with 3G dongles for a few years and Vodafone used to not supply one. The advantage is that you can fix the modem in a position where there is a better signal. I used to use blu-tac to fix it to the inside of the window on railway carriages. It seriously improves the signal strength and the quality of the connection (although if its a high speed train you may lose signal as the 3G service is affected by even slight doppler shift and I think above 100 mph this starts to affect the connection).
This is a tale of two halfs. The first half is installing the modem in Ubunti and getting it connected which was incredibly easy. The second part was setting up the billing and topping up facility with Vodafone which was a bit tricky (more on this later).
Setting up In Ubuntu
Here is what I did to install it:
- Decide which USB socket you are going to use it in and plug the modem/dongle in.
- Right click on the network manager applet in the top bar (right hand side - the one that shows signal strength if you are connected with wi-fi).
- Select "Edit Connections".
- Choose "Mobile Broadband" from the list and click "add".
- Select "Vodafone (Pre-Pay)" from the list.
- Follow the instructions.
- If asked for a password and username the username does not appear to be important. I used "Vodafone" and put the password as "web".
Ignore all the online articles you see which suggest changing the APN. The correct one is "pp.internet" and Ubuntu should have set this correctly. Some earlier versions of the Ubuntu mobile broadband set up wizard had this set incorrectly, but this has been fixed through normal Ubuntu updates.
To start the modem and connect, left click on the network applet in the top bar and select "Vodafone (PAYG)" under "Mobile Broadband". It should connect (subject to signal). Sometimes I find it takes a while to connect to the Vodafone resolvers if the signal is poor. Give it a minute and it will come right.
Setting up for top ups at Vodafone
You need to set it up at www.vodafone.co.uk so you can top up with bandwidth on line. They have facilities for setting up direct debit, storing a card number or using a card for a one off payment. I think its possible to top up using a voucher bought from a shop, but without using the windows software from Vodafone I can't see any way of actually registering the top up.
- To do this you will need the telephone number of the sim card in the modem/dongle. To do this I put it in a Vodafone mobile phone and dialed *#100# and the number was displayed on the phone's screen.
- Go to www.vodafone.co.uk and find the page for "Register PAYG".
- Go through the registration process and a text will be sent to your phone with the security code.
- Enter this into the Vodafone registration page and follow the on screen instructions to set up your account.
This is where it went wrong for me. The text with the code never arrived. I tried a few times and got nowhere. A search on the Vodafone site suggested that this only works using the inbuilt text software in the dongle (which is Windows only of course). I had no choice but to install the dongle on my dektop PC to get the registration code. The code had expired so I requested a new one and it arrived in the text inbox in the Vodafone Connect software (Windows). This may just have been my bad luck as other pepole say they have had the text on the phone the sim card was installed in, or maybe Vodafone are tightening up on unsupported use?
Having installed it, it works very well on my Ubuntu laptop and I can log into the Vodafone web site for top ups. It does not take long to set up and I hope this article helps someone else if they hit the same problems.