Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Our Mobile Internet Connection

We have updated this page (August 2012) as things have changed a lot since we first wrote it back in October 2007!  We have kept the old information – if you want to read it, just move down the page.

After more than 4½ years with a Vodafone 'dongle', in October 2011 we changed to '3', as we discovered that our '3' phones often had a signal when we could find NOTHING AT ALL with the Vodafone dongle.  Result – we are very pleased, with the added bonus that we now have up to 15 GB per month, which is five times what we had before.  We signed up to a business deal, as Dave really needs a good connection for the tools business, updating the business website, emails and blog, on top of the normal personal emails and this blog.  '3' seem to do some pretty good personal deals, too, and the coverage seems excellent.

As an extra boost to the dongle's effectiveness, we usually have it on the end of a 5 metre USB extension lead, encased in a sealed plastic bag fixed to the wind turbine mast on the roof.  Probably not often really necessary, as it always works fine when we just stick it in the boat window for a quick connection.

Some time ago, Jeremy helped Dave set up a 'peer to peer' network, which means that anyone who brings their laptop on board can link to the internet through our connection – very useful!

When Val got her own computer in December 2011, of course it was easy for her to get online by just connecting to the network.  Our lovely high monthly allowance means that we don't need to worry about going over the limit, though it might be a problem if we used online TV a lot!

We still use the DUMeter, but it is now more reassuring that we are nowhere near our monthly limit, rather than warning us of going over it!

We have turned off ONSPEED (see below), as the '3' dongle seems to work better without it, and will not renew our subscription.  It was quite helpful at speeding up Vodafone, though!

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Here's the old post from October 2007:-

One of the questions that comes up as we talk to people in our travels is: "How do you manage to do your blog and have e-mail while you are on the move?" Here are some simple explanations:–

First, of course, we need a computer! We have a Dell Inspiron 630m laptop, running Windows XP. Even when we got it in 2006, it was probably not the very latest bit of kit, but it is fine and has more capacity than our desktop which we left in Lapford.
Then we needed some form of mobile modem. Most laptops in recent years have a slot for a PC card, and these are available from several manufacturers. (Left is a picture of Vodafone's model.) Our laptop has a slot for the newer (and smaller) ExpressCard socket instead.

At that time, ExpressCards (see right) were not very easy to find so we had to look for an alternative.

In fact, the alternative proved more versatile than the PC Card or ExpressCard would have been . . . read on!

Any card modem (PC Card or ExpressCard) would need an external aerial to be sure of working inside a narrowboat. That's fine, and cards and aerials are available from various dealers. You can find more information from the very useful BoatersPhone website.
The alternative we found is called a USB Modem. This is a Card Modem that plugs into the USB port of any modern computer (desktop or laptop) and comes complete with two short USB leads. What about the need for an aerial? The USB Modem doesn't have any connection for one, but there is a much simpler solution – we have a long (5 metre) USB lead and started by simply putting the modem out of the window and on the roof of the boat (in a plastic box to protect it from the rain). Now we don't even bother to do that, but slot it in next to a window (inside). Either way, it works brilliantly!

We got ours from Vodafone's online business shop but other providers have also started offering their versions – look around!
Then we have a useful bit of software called ONSPEED. This speeds up our internet connection by compressing the data that we send and receive. By doing that, of course, we are also using less of our monthly allowance. That was more critical when we only had 250 MegaBytes per month. Now, with 3 GigaBytes, there is not much danger of going over the limit, but the extra speed is worthwhile. A very useful upgrade if you haven't got Broadband, and added speed if you have. Their website says: "Using a unique and patented compression technology, ONSPEED increases Dial-up speeds by up to 10 times; Broadband by up to 5 times and Mobile connections (via GPRS/3G) by up to 8 times." To find out more, click here and you will be able to check all the details. If you should decide to buy ONSPEED through this link, we will get our subscription extended as a 'thank you' from ONSPEED – so 'thank you' to you too!

Another bit of useful software is the DU Meter. This accurately logs our internet usage, which was especially useful when our usage was more limited.

Hope some of these ideas may be useful for you if you need mobile internet connection, on a boat or anywhere else!

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