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jscore 24-10-2011 19:55

Buy a 3G USB Modem?
I travel a lot, and sometimes require 3G connectivity on the road, and been considering a 3G modem purchase for data only sims, etc.

First, why buy one when I can always tether using my Android phone? Is there some performance limitations there (it does up to 7.2Mbps)

Second, if I was gonna buy a 3G modem, which one is the best, and most flexible?


inquisitor 24-10-2011 21:42

If you have an Android phone with hotspot feature you indeed should question the use of a separate 3G modem. The only issue when using an Android phone as hotspot is the heat which most phones develop and from which the hardware may suffer over the time and also the battery wear caused by the high power consumption.

Personally I usually carry a mobile 3G hotspot from Huawei with me when I travel because I don't want to wear my Android phone too quickly and also I usually leave the SIM from my home network in it (as opposed to using a local SIM with lower data rates) so I remain reachable under my known phone number.
The advantage of these mobile hotspots is that you can use their internet connection from more than one device and that you can situate them freely so they have the best reception (on a window sill e.g.).
Huawei sell the following devices:
  • E583x series (support 7.2 MBit/s DL and 5.76 MBit/s UL and hasn't a display but only colored LEDs, microSD is only accessible through USB) and further differ in the supported 3G frequencies:
    • E5830: 2100
    • E5832: 900/2100
    • E5838: 850/1900/2100

  • E5832S/E585 (supports 7.2 MBit/s DL and 5.76 MBit/s UL, has a dotmarix display, microSD is accessible also through WiFi) and again exists with different frequency bands:
    • 900/2100
    • 850/900/2100

  • E583C (supports 7.2 MBit/s DL and 5.76 MBit/s UL, has a dotmarix display and a connector for an external antenna, microSD is accessible also through WiFi) and comes in only one version:
    • 900/1900/2100

  • E586 (supports HSPA+ with 21 MBit/s DL and has a dotmatrix display, microSD is accessible also through WiFi) which comes in only one frequency version so far:
    • 900/2100

You should make your choice depending on whether you like displays ;-) and on which 3G frequencies you require (depends on country and network operator).

jscore 24-10-2011 22:26

Thanks, that's a great explanation.

Sucks there's not one with ALL the bands, although I'll prob stick to 900/2100 since I do a lot of Europe traveling.

inquisitor 25-10-2011 04:11

Unfortunately I'm not aware of any external 3G data device that would support more than three frequency bands. The Qualcomm Gobi 2000, an internal MiniPCIe card, is the only pure data device I know that supports quadband UMTS (850/900/1900/2100) and also GPS. There are a few quadband-UMTS phones (e.g. the iPhone4(s) and few Nokias) and the Nokia N8, which afaik is the world's only pentaband-UMTS phone, but these devices don't support antenna diversity (two or more antennas used to improve reception and thus bandwidth) for all frequencies, while afaik those Huawei hotspots have.
Anyway I think most of the UMTS850/1900-world (especially North America) doesn't have any attractive prepaid data tariffs, so support of these frequencies would be of rather little use.
Note that UMTS800 (only used in Japan) is actually not a separate UMTS frequency band but just a channel-wise cropped version of UMTS850 - every UMTS850 device does flawlessly work on UMTS800 networks so I do not count it as a separate band.
Btw I just realized that the E586 also supports the newer WiFi standard 802.11n (supporting up to 300 MBit/s), but I don't see any significant use in this as it's internet connection (21 MBit/s) is still way slower than the old 802.11g standard delivers (54 MBit/s) and further WiFi transmission power level is relatively low so WiFi range won't be improved significantly either and lastly I doubt people will exchange huge amounts of data within their mobile WiFi network. So this is rather irrelevant.

PhotoJim 25-10-2011 17:38

I use USB "modems" (they don't modulate and demodulate, which is what a modem does, so it's not really the right word... I know, I'm pedantic - but I call them data sticks). I prefer them over USB hot spots for a few reasons:

1. Hotspots can suffer from interference, particularly in areas with a lot of other WiFi hotspots (hotels, apartments, city centres). They tend to pick their WiFi channel randomly so you don't always have control over how well they will work.
2. They require their own AC source or else require you to manage battery charging. A USB stick simply draws power from the computer you're using it with.
3. Data sticks are cheap enough to buy, so if you need to tweak your compatibility with local networks in another area, it's easy enough to get another stick. I have three sticks, an HSPA one that works at 850/1900/2100 MHz, and HSPA+ one that works at the same frequencies and is much faster (but seems slightly fussier in weaker coverage), and an HSPA one that works at AWS bands (1700 MHz) that some providers in North America use. I pop my SIM into the stick that suits my needs the best.

I think society is all in a tizzy about wireless this and wireless that (and obviously we're using wireless technology to get our Internet connection here anyway) but the less wireless you use, the more reliability and simplicity you get, so I like using data sticks. It takes one more potential problem out of the equation.

inquisitor 25-10-2011 18:22

I don't like the term "modem" for 3G devices either as it reminds me of 1995 when my first analogue 14.4 KBit/s modem modulated bit and bytes to frequencies in the audible range. But in fact all our fully digital communication technologies - no matter if wired or wireless - still use modulation and demodulation. E.g. the modulation schemes used for UMTS are QPSK and QAM. Even when converting electro-magnetic carrier waves into light for transmisstion through fiber-optic cables people correctly speak of "modulation" and "demodulation".

Regarding the points you made on 3G hotspots you should know that those Huawei modems, which I've recommended do not only work wirelessly, but can also be attached to a computer by USB. Then they will be detected as a generic USB ethernet adaptor and will let you access the web without requiring any additional drivers or software. And if you install and launch Huawei's dashboard (Mobile Partner) they will enter in an alternative USB mode, where they will behave like any other Huawei 3G modem, so you can enter USSD requests etc. So these Huawei 3G hotspots can be used like any of their 3G sticks if desired. Anyway I never saw the 2.4 GHz spectrum being so congested that I would experience any issue with the Wifi connection to my hotspot. That can happen if there's a greater distance between access point and client, but it's very unlikely to happen if Wifi clients are in the same or neighbouring room.
Huawei's 3G hotspots get their power supply over a standard USB jack - so you can operate and charge them also on your computer. So again no difference to a data stick.
You're right that data sticks are cheaper, but they are not as flexible and cannot be situated freely to get a better 3G signal and you cannot use the same data plan on your smartphone and laptop simutaneously as you can do with a 3G hotspot, which at some point may again cost you money if you need data on both (or even more) devices concurrently.
As of reliability of wireless technologies I've never had issues when connecting a WiFi device to my 3G hotspot - the least reliable thing here are the 3G networks, which sometimes get congested and suffer from an effect called cell-breathing, where signal gets weaker upon high load which may even push you out of the serving 3G cell's coverage.

DRNewcomb 30-11-2011 02:47

While it's not USB if you have a laptop with a PC Card (PCMCIA) slot, this card is a very nice value. It's 3-band UMTS and quad band GSM.

dg7feq 01-12-2011 08:41

any ideas where to buy the huawei router with 850/900/2100 band? Or any other 3G-USB Modem with these bands?
all i clicked on ebay so far only have 900/2100 or the seller has no clue which version it is...


dg7feq 01-12-2011 08:53

quite frustrating... Huawei has two USB-Modems even with quadband-HSDPA (HUAWEI E372 , E182E) but you cant buy them anywhere (or only netlocked or simlocked or with contract).

EDIT: long live china :-)

andy 07-12-2011 03:38


Originally Posted by dg7feq (Post 38277)
quite frustrating... Huawei has two USB-Modems even with quadband-HSDPA (HUAWEI E372 , E182E) but you cant buy them anywhere (or only netlocked or simlocked or with contract).

There seem to be some on eBay

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