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Proposal: List 3G Modem Drivers and Firmware


NighTalon

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I suppose the drivers that come with DC-Unlocker are a good place to start, but in some cases, the only place I've been able to find updated firmwares for certain Option cards is a Polish forum called bez-kabli.pl.

Sierra Wireless and Huawei make their drivers quite easy to access, but Novatel Wireless and Sony Ericsson do not.

Also, there is room for discussion on firmwares that unlock 7.2 MB/s speeds, voice, GPS, and other capabilities.

Please consider my proposal seriously!

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Yes, actually they are stopping me. I can't create a new subforum for 3G modems. Same for Bluetooth, if people want it.

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Yes, actually they are stopping me. I can't create a new subforum for 3G modems. Same for Bluetooth, if people want it.

OK, here's what I know on the 3G and Bluetooth fronts:

Bluetooth:

Cambridge Silicon Research and Broadcom are the two manufacturers I know about. People like CSR radios because there is extensive documentation for them. There are obviously multiple Bluetooth stacks for Windows. BlueSoleil, Toshiba, and Broadcom/Widcomm/Foxconn are the ones I know about. Linux and MacOS seem to support both CSR and Broadcom radios, although I don't have too much information about 64-bit support in Snow Leopard for the CSR radios. The Toshiba and BlueSoleil stacks support both types of radios, whereas the BCM/WDCM/FXCN drivers only support BCM chipsets. The Toshiba drivers will request a registration if not installed on a Toshiba-branded laptop, BlueSoleil costs a few bones, and the BCM drivers available on the Broadcom website may be up to date, but in most cases they will not install on any chipset that is ever-so-slightly OEM-branded. HP and Acer seem to be able to use one another's Broadcom Bluetooth drivers.

3G Modems:

CDMA/EVDO rev. A

I'm from the US, so even though I don't use Verizon or Sprint, I feel an obligation to mention this. As far as I know, all of the main manufacturers for 3G modems make CDMA devices as well as GSM devices. CDMA should not be confused with W-CDMA. EV-DO Rev. A is now a fairly dated spec, since CDMA networks don't really have a long-term future, so its speeds haven't been updated. That said, Verizon's 3G coverage is far more extensive than any other US network, and Sprint's network is very speedy, assuming you can find a signal.

EVDO networks in the US operate on the 1900 and 850 MHz frequencies. Higher frequencies allow for greater fidelity at short ranges, such as in cities, while the lower frequencies allow for greater range, especially in rural areas. While upgrading to revision B is on the table, current theoretical speeds lag behind AT&T at 3.1 MBps down and 1.4 MBps up.

Novatel Wireless, Sierra Wireless, ZTE, Huawei, and Option (Gobi) all make CDMA-compatible devices. I have no experience with CDMA networks since switching from Verizon a year ago. Note that in the US, CDMA networks do not use SIM cards, so switching carriers is quite difficult (except with Gobi modems) and unlimited "LaptopConnect" data packages are usually $60/month.

GSM/HSPA

GSM is the global mobile telephony standard, for the most part. In the US, AT&T and T-Mobile operate on the GSM standard, on the frequencies of 850 MHz and 1900 MHz. Until the days of UMTS (part of the updated GSM spec) the technology used in GSM networks lagged substantially behind that of CDMA networks in terms of network capacity, fidellity, etc. However, for the past decade, inevitably more research has gone into improving GSM networks than CDMA networks due to their widespread use. In Europe, GSM networks also operate on the 2100 MHz and 900 MHz frequencies, so if international use is important to you, look for quad-band EDGE/tri-band UMTS. GSM systems use SIM cards which allow for switching networks, and also paying for data plans designed for feature-phones but using them for data-cards and data-intensive smartphones.

UMTS is an upgrade to the GSM system that incorporates W-CDMA, developed by Japan's NTT DoCoMo telecom; it incorporates many of the same advantages of previous legacy CDMA networks. However, UMTS allowed for several additional features that did not exist in conventional CDMA systems. There are also extensions to the UMTS spec called HSDPA and HSUPA which currently allow for theoretical download speeds of 7.2 Mbps and upload speeds of 2.0 or 5.4 Mbps. When a card/modem/phone has simultaneous HSDPA and HSUPA access, this is often called HSPA. HSPA+ will add further speed enhancements to the spec. Note that T-Mobile has branched from AT&T and uses the 1700 MHz (AWS) frequency for its brand-new 3G network. Coverage on both AT&T and T-Mobile is significantly worse than on Verizon, although AT&T is currently rolling out more and more service on the 850 MHz frequency, resolving many users' connectivity issues. T-Mobile is still playing catch-up. UMTS will be superceded by LTE in the coming years, and all of the US carriers seem to be converging on LTE, and seemless handoffs between both GSM and CDMA networks have been demonstrated. It seems that Sprint and Verizon will also then use SIM cards, allowing network switches on unlocked phones and modems.

The Cards:

Data modems or 3G modems or AirCards are a popular way of getting online wherever there is cellular signal. Data plans are often pricey, but with GSM networks, these high tariffs can be circumvented by paying for plans designed for less data-intensive devices. These days most cards are supported in all 3 OSes, Mac, Windows, and Linux. For Mac and Windows, both native and client-based support is often available.

Data modems generally come in three variants, USB, MiniPCI-E, or PCMCIA/ExpressCard. Note that these last two standards are really only similar in that such modems are generally slid into an expansion slot in the side of a laptop. There are also 3G routers such as Verizon's MiFi (and various other competitors) that have a MiniPCI-E card and a WIFI chipset built in and function as a limited wireless router. Previously, many USB data cards were merely USB-to-MiniPCI-E adapters with MiniPCI-E cards connected internally. This type of hardware is becoming less popular as manufacturers build smaller and smaller modems.

There are essentially only a handful of manufacturers who make 3G modems:

Sierra Wireless (Californian, firmware and software very easy to obtain from their website, easy to unlock GPS/voice features, good performance)

Novatel Wireless (Canadian, firmware hard to find, make the MiFi, only manufacturer who makes a MiniPCI-E card with a built-in SIM card reader, ideal for slots not designed for 3G modems, but now discontinued)

Option (Belgian, make Gobi, (dual-purpose CDMA/GSM module) good support, PCMCIA cards crash, only models with pop-out butterfly antennae, on some cards GPS and voice features can only be enabled via a serial interface)

Ericsson (Swedish, only make one GSM chipset to my knowledge, has GPS)

Huawei (Chinese, also make refrigerators and heavy machinery, decent performance and reliability with recent firmware)

ZTE (Taiwanese? Little else known...)

HP seems to like Option's Gobi chipsets as of late. (un2400) Dell likes Gobi, Option's GTM382, and Ericsson F5307g. (don't remember Dell Wireless model names...) Acer seems to like Option's GTM380 and GTM382. Beyond that, I have no idea which manufacturers use whose products.

Anyway, I'd like to pose a question to the community: which cards have you had the best luck with in terms of speed/reliability/signal?

Obviously driver support is an issue for everyone, but beyond that, I've heard that Sierra Wireless cards such as the 720 series for CDMA and the 8781 series for GSM have great performance overall. This chipset seems to be the same age as the Ericsson chipset, which is also popular. However, the Option GTM380 and GTM382 are newer cards. I can't conclusively say how they compare in terms of performance.

It is also worth pointing out that many of these cards are based around Qualcomm chipsets, usually of the MSM series. MSM7200 was a popular series chipset for a while, and I believe that Option, Sierra, and Novatel generally use Qualcomm chipsets. I don't know if this is the case for the other manufacturers since they may have more independent design and manufacturing capacities.

Notes:

Tethering performance may also be worth noting, in case certain networks are highly optimized for certain phones, such as the iPhone 3GS. Of course this generally is not as elegant a way of connecting: on CDMA networks an incoming call will interrupt data access. However, comparing tethering scenarios is a good way of comparing antennas/chipsets/driver-sets.

Obtaining the latest drivers and firmware is often an issue for certain cards in certain scenarios. Bez-kabli.pl is a good place to start. Beyond that, YMMV. Often times firmware updates unlock new features like higher access speeds, GPS, voice, stability, etc.

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See notebookreview.com forums for more activity on this subject!

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