Let's face it - surfing the Internet on a mobile / cellphone is a frustrating experience. Websites are not meant to be viewed on a small screen - simple as that. Trying to get a cellular / mobile Internet connection working on a laptop is a nightmare for most. With smart phones like the Nokia N95 8Gb or the Apple iPhone this has become a lot easier. It can be turned into a simple WIFI access point. For travelers that's good news reducing complexity and frustration - though a bit of WIFI knowledge and experience is required. A test case from France with the Orange 3G prepaid internet simcard - La Mobicarte.
The instant 3G WIFI hotspot
Accessing Internet on a laptop through cellular phone modem with USB / IR or Bluetooth has always been a rather complicated matter. The Telecom industry now tries to solve this technological barter with external USB sticks and PCMCIA data cards.
For example the popular Huawei E220 USB G3 sticks are now sold by nearly every big cellular network provider in Europe. NOTE: These 3G USB adapters can be simlocked into 1 cellular network only.
|The Huawei E220 USB G3 sold in Europe sold by Telecom companies
But what about high-speed cellular Internet on a laptop without clumsy USB / PCMCIA receivers? Most smart phones have both G3 and WIFI hardware, the perfect ingredients for an instant WIFI hotspot.
With a G3 signal in reach, flip the WIFI Hotspot switch on your smart phone and start browsing the web through WIFI on a laptop. There are a few companies offering WIFI Hotspot software for smart phones.
|The Nokia N95 8GB with G3, WIFI and GPS - perfect for a WIFI hotspot
Read about other solutions to share a 3G internet connection over WIFI.
Nokia N95 warning :: Be careful with car chargers, it can damage the Nokia N95.
Setting up a WIFI hotspot on a Nokia N95 - 8Gb is similar to configuring a conventional WIFI access point. However with a slight difference, Symbian OS for the Nokia N95 doesn't support WLAN mode, so the WIFI connection is peer-to-peer only, as if the laptop is connected directly to a different computer or laptop. Nonetheless the WIFI connection works ok.
In this case JoikuSpot is used with a full license. The following WIFI parameters were set:
|The JoikuSpot Premium Setup Screen
The WIFI connection starts as 10 Mbit with client IP 192.168.2.2 and worked of the shelf. So far so good, time for a bit of testing.
New 2012: Prepaid 3G internet in France for iPad and Cellphone
In France the Orange Mobicarte prepaid PAYG simcard was tested. Though the cheapest at the time of writing, Orange has implemented a few sneaky measures which can zero your prepaid / prepay balance at lightning speed.
The Orange 3G Internet connection worked within 48 hours after being registered using a passport copy. Orange Mobicarte comes with "unlimited" Internet access (Internet Max) for a day for € 3,-. It starts directly and expires somewhere past midnight - but be careful, costly conditions apply.
|The Orange Mobicarte Prepay - PAYG simcard
Be Careful : Conditions apply!
There's one big catch with Orange : The flat-fee rate applies only for internet access on your mobile / cell phone - not on a laptop, notebook or netbook. In case you try it anyway, you risk every Kb / Mb you download / upload to be deducted from your prepaid balance. This has been confirmed in Oct 2009 and Aug 2010.
Another sneaky catch: The Orange terms of service has email access through POP/SMTP/IMAP excluded from the day package. Specially this small print zeroed the prepaid balance for quite a few (foreign) Orange customers by reading e-mail on a iphone, smartphone, blackberry using an e-mail application. In August 2010 it seemed direct POP connections were blocked by the Orange network, which was different from October 2009/
If that's not enough - Orange says it notifies you when your InternetMAX session starts by SMS / Text message. In Oct 2009 and again in August 2010 this notification SMS / Text message never came. It probably contains the expiration time/date of the 1 day InternetMAX session - without this info the expiration time is just a guess - assume it's somewhere past midnight.
However Orange does send a SMS / Text message when the InternetMAX session expires - but way too late. It usually came in the afternoon, way AFTER the previous InternetMAX session has expired.
You prepaid balance might already be zero-ed when you receive this SMS / Text message.
Countermeasures to prevent Orange ZERO-ing your prepaid balance
The countermeasure for accessing the internet on your laptop within the Orange flat-fee rate is a bit complicated. If this is not your thing read about a simple measure how to protect your prepaid Orange balance or else sit tight for a bit of tech stuff.
To prevent any surprises from Orange, the 3G connection was tested using a PC based VPN connection from Witopia. This way all traffic is encrypted and no way to distinguish between HTTP and POP/SMTP/IMAP access.
The 3G connection worked pretty well - in fact it was 3,5G and shared with 2 laptops over the Nokia N95 with Joikuspot. WIFI connections are in Ad-Hoc mode. Not all WIFI connection managers work off-the-shelf with Ad-Hoc connections and require a bit of fiddling to get it working. On average about 60 Mb bandwidth was used in an evening with 2 laptops with a reasonable fast Internet connection. It has a few quirks, but more about that later.
Read about High Speed 3G prepaid Internet in Spain.
Joikuspot operational details
The WIFI router software - Joikusoft - running on the Nokia N95 has a few specific operational details:
- The WIFI router works in G mode (54 Mbit/s) only. The B mode (11 Mbit/s) doesn't work.
- Joikuspot only starts the WIFI router when the WIFI client is powered on
- WPA encryption doesn't work, it's WEP only
- The Joikuspot traffic counter differs from the Nokia package data counter.
- When Joikuspot is not running, channel association with the N95 still occurs. Meaning it seems like the laptop is still connected through WIFI.
These observations where made with Joikuspot V2.50 Premium.
It is highly recommended not to recharge the Orange 3G prepaid SIM card with not too much balance. Based on experiences, the exact daily expiration time of the daily Orange 3G prepaid "unlimited Internet Max" session varies. Meaning when approaching the expiration time with a full blown 3G session, any existing prepaid balance can be zero-ed in a matter of minutes. Also fuzzy and changing conditions like excluding POP/SMTP/IMAP traffic from the budget can zero your prepaid balance real fast.
On top of that, balance queries are not exact - it can take a while before the Orange 3G prepaid balance is updated. Thus, don't trust Orange with a high 3G prepaid balance - the maximum recommended balance is the charge for the "unlimited Internet Max" session.
|The small print for the Orange Mobicarte Prepay - PAYG simcard
Orange sells prepaid cards of € 5 and € 10 and upward. Be warned when recharging your Orange Prepaid card with anything more than that when using 3G Internet.
Read about Free local Digital TV in France on your laptop.