If you need to stay in touch when travelling, one of the most difficult tasks is selecting the best method. If you can survive by using an internet cafe every few days for the odd email, that’s great. However more people want to be able to do a little more than send or receive the odd email now and again. So what are the options?
Well the most obvious is to use free WiFI… if you have BT Broadband or Sky Broadband at home, then you can access global WiFi networks such as FON and The Cloud. This is fine if you can actually connect to a WiFI hot spot. To maximise the chances of doing this I have been using a Bear Extender which probably doubles or trebles my chances of connecting to some distant hot spot. For the times when this won’t cut it, there is always the option of using one of the dongles offered by the mobile phone companies… In my ‘connectivity toolbox’ I have a Vodafone USB dongle, which usually lets me connect for my Wibbly Wobbly Web fix. However, this has it’s limitations and is not cheap!
I recently bought an unlocked Huawei E586 Wireless Modem from an online shop. The modem arrived within 24 hours along with a 1Gb data SIM… which cost a massive 1p…. yes that one penny!. I also ordered a 3Gb data sim for a different carrier….. for 99p.
Setting up the Huawei E586 was simple, just insert the SIM card and battery and turning it on. I then browsed for a WiFi network with my Macbook and connected by entering the password, and that was it. I was on line and connected via 3’s HSPA+ technology at a reasonable 16Mbps download and 4.3 Mbps upload – that was quicker than my home broadband only three or four years ago! Doing a quick comparison, it was quicker than the 3G connection on my iPhone. The big test though would not be in the office… but out in the real world in the caravan pitched in the wilderness… OK well not quite the wilderness, near Lytham St Annes in this case!
In the caravan it worked pretty well as much as it did back in the office. I could connect to the modem via WiFi or use the supplied lead to plug it in to a USB port and connect via cable and charge the unit at the same time (there is a separate mains charger supplied with the unit). The battery life is supposed to be around 4 to 5 hours with something like 100 hours in standby, it didn’t show any signs of needing a recharge all weekend. Where we were camped, the signal to my iPhone was only showing 2 bars, so I simply connected via WiFi to the Huawei E586 without any problems. The next test would be Sue’s Blackberry, and again easy to connect and worked perfectly.
The small screen on the Huawei E586 shows the signal strength, data usage, how many WiFI devices are connected and the time you have been connected.
I wondered if I could improve the signal strength by locating the unit on the roof of the caravan. Up to now I had it sitting in its stand by a window. Placing it in a small sealable plastic box and placing it on the roof made a slight improvement… but as soon as I lifted it off the aluminium roof the signal strength shot up to max. So I managed to site it in the centre of the large roof light… still showing maximum signal strength. Watching videos on You Tube, which can be a bit of a test for most devices was not a problem and streaming the BBC news channel live was a success too with no pixilation or freezing of the image, even when sending and receiving emails.
The next thing to try would be to connect a 3 metre USB cable and mount the unit on a short pole above the roofline of the caravan for those really difficult signal areas. I’ll get back to you on that!
The Huawei E586 is easy to use. It seems to connect even when my iPhone and Sue’s Blackberry show minimal signal strength, and as it’s currently on a different carrier, it increases the chance of staying connected with our smart phones and tablet devices when out and about. (The only thing I didn’t do was check to see if Sue’s Kindle would connect via it). When you connect via the supplied USB cable, it allows you to access the admin side of the Huawei E586, so you can configure it’s settings. I’d recommend that you do this and at least change the password if nothing else. I made a couple of other changes so it will not show up if someone is casually browsing for a WiFi network to connect to. The instructions that come with it are basic, and I’m not going to go through them here, but a quick search on Google brought up a number of sites that had lots of setup help… and quite a few handy hints too.
If you are going to buy one, make sure it is factory unlocked. The one I bought is , although it is branded “3”. Being unlocked allows me to use it with other carriers SIM’s both here in the UK and abroad.
How cheap is it to run? Well I bought some 1Gb Data SIM’s for 1p each…. so when they are used I could just throw them away and use another one. You have a month from activating the SIM to use the 1Gb. Look out for cheap P & P and be careful as some sellers charge P & P per SIM even on multiple orders. Sometimes, just buying a new SIM is cheaper than topping up, you have to do a little research. You can also buy via the internet pre paid data only SIMS for various carriers in several countries, I’ve not yet tried this out, but will be doing so in the near future.
So if touring, or just need to be connected while out and about the Huawei E586 could be your connectivity answer…… that is until something better comes along next week!
Is it worth the money – for us, YES