Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Connectivity

I live in the woods, so getting the internet here is not as obvious as it is to most of you. I few months back when I realised my neighbour had wired broadband I tried getting it to my house too. The technician came out in a van and a hi-viz vest, poked at the phone line connection to the house, made that ticking sound with his tongue and drove off. Soon after I got a letter saying I was too far from the exchange to support wired broadband, oh and please send back the modem they had couriered me.

So, excitement over, I continued using my phone as a wifi hotspot, sharing its 3G connection. That works quite well but my plan is capped at 3GB. When I say capped that means no more data after that. Some plans allow you to pay something and put a bit more data on. Not this one. Capped means capped. It is actually an old plan and, based on the odd letter and phone call I get from Vodafone they would like me to switch, but the only things they have to switch to have less data and more voice time. Since I almost always hit the end of my data and never run out of voice this is not attractive.

You may imagine I look at the wired broadband plans that offer 80GB caps (they're pretty well always capped in NZ) with envy. I can add to my 3GB by going to the library where I get 200MB a day, but I feel kind of 3rd world doing that. My favourite cafes offer unlimited but if I camp there all day I end up drinking too much coffee, though I tend to get all my updates done by making sure I breakfast out most weeks.

But when I get doing something like installing new software, or developing new software (which inevitably needs me to pull down some new libraries) I can easily find my quota is blown. Checking G+ gobbles up about 50MB so I don't do that every day.

Mrs has a T-stick, a little USB 3G modem she plugs into her laptop. It will actually plug into a wireless modem we have so it would be a lot like everyone else has, ie wifi all over the house connected to broadband. Her plan has a cap as well, an extendable cap. That's because it is with Telecom instead of Vodafone. So I got thinking: if I got another T-stick I'd get another 3GB. Extending Mrs for another 3G is more expensive than a separate one, besides she doesn't quite trust me not to chew through all her quota (and she is right not to).

These T-sticks come trumpeting their support for Windows and Mac machines... but not Linux. So I expected to have to scratch around on the web and find out what to do. Mrs' T-stick doesn't work OOTB, I tried it. I believe it is possible and when I convince her to switch to Linux I'll need to figure that out. But my new T-stick (pictured... it's not a tampon) just worked. No config, nothing at all. It shows up as a wired connection. For anyone else trying this it is the E3531 T-stick and I have it running on Ubuntu 13.10. It has a little web server in it you can browse to if you need to change the config or send/receive TXT, or you can ignore it. Just browse to http://192.168.8.1

I'm not actually in the woods right now, I'm down in the city (Auckland) so I have it on my laptop, but when I get home I will plug it into the modem and use the house wifi. I probably need about 4GB/month so I can either top it up when I need to or I can use my phone, though I expect I will change the plan on the phone now, quite possibly I'll switch it over to Telecom since they seem to do a better job.

There's a second reason to switch the phone to Telecom. We don't have a land line connected. That's our choice, we used to have one, but we never used it because we have the mobiles. So when we had a big storm a while back the Vodafone network went down. The Telecom one stayed up. It meant Mrs could get online but with both phones on Vodafone we could not voice-call (and I had no internet). We didn't need to call anyone, but it might have been handy if we had an emergency. So it seems prudent to spread it around, especially since it is no longer vital to keep that 3GB plan.

With the house wifi providing internet I can use it like the rest of you do, ie multiple devices connecting to it, hang a USB drive off the modem for simple file exchange and backup and make better use of our wifi printer. My phone needs to be plugged into power to hotspot because that chews through the battery, so doing that less will be nice.