Sharing 3G internet on the road

31 Mar 2011
Posted by Laptop Junction

A hands-on impression of a 3G internet router, the GlobeSurfer III produced by Option. Find out about installing and using the 3G router including details about GSM  / UMTS antenna configurations. 

In this article you'll find:

Sharing 3G internet on the go

Option GlobeSurfer III impression

3G external antenna for better range

Mini 3G external antenna

Setting up a 3G connection

GlobeSurfer III operational details from the road

Option GlobeSurfer III on the Internet

Option GlobeSurfer III information


Sharing 3G internet on the go

For those who need to access the internet while on the move, cellular 3G internet is a serious option. Prepaid / prepay / PAYG internet data SIM cards become more and more available for foreigners / travelers with cheap data tariffs.

Sharing 3G cellular internet in Dubai - UAE in the marina - harbour
Sharing 3G cellular internet in Dubai - UAE in the marina - harbor - in the background the Burj al Arab Hotel

There are quite a few options to share 3G internet among others as already discussed in sharing 3G internet over WIFI. This 3G router is particularly interesting for those with a boat, motorhome, RV of campervan with a steady supply of electric power through battery or engine. 
            internet signal booster3G internet
            mobile phone cellphone sharing over WIFI3G internet
            prepaid prepay scratch sim cards


The GlobeSurfer III also fits fixed home situations with weak or intermittent 3G coverage, such as a holiday home, second home, time-share apartment in a rural area.

Here’s a first hand impression of the Option GlobeSurfer III used on the road  installed in a large camper truck with external 3G antenna. Installation and use is similar for those living on a sailboat, yacht or canal boat.

Sharing 3G cellular internet with a Option GlobeSurfer III
Sharing 3G cellular internet with the GlobeSurfer III - on the right a Thuraya HNS-7100 satellite phone in a docking station

Not travelling by vehicle? Read about other ways to share 3G internet over WIFI.

Option GlobeSurfer III impression

On first sight, three useful features make the GlobeSurfer III stand out from other 3G routers; The external antenna connection, the SIM card slot and the front display.

Option GlobeSurfer III status display Option GlobeSurfer III SIM card slot Option GlobeSurfer III MC plug connector for external antenna
Status display - showing connection
SIM card slot at the bottom
Option GlobeSurfer III antenna jack

Being in close vicinity of a GSM/UMTS base station when moving around isn’t always the case. The same applies for moving closer to the base station for a better connection. Specially when you’re on a boat or drive a large motorhome. A 3G external roof top antenna is a very useful feature increasing 3G range and connection speed significantly.

Other 3G routers operate with external USB connected 3G devices – raising compatibility and/or connection issues. Next a USB pendrive sticking out makes a 3G router vulnerable for mechanical USB port issues. The Option GlobeSurfer accepts GSM simcards directly – avoiding the issue’s above.

The internal color display of the Option GlobeSurfer III is simply great. It’s direct feedback without having to log on to the management console. It shows the internet connection status and the computers connected to the 3G router – very useful info.

Mini 3G external antenna

The 3G external antenna isn't included when buying the Option GlobeSurfer III. Finding a 3G antenna with MC card plug isn't that easy for those not familiar with HF plugs and jacks. Next to that 3G antenna are sold for overinflated prices - in most cases it's nothing more than a plug, wire and antenna rod.

SmartEQ in Sweden produces the MiniMag Sputnik, an affordable 3G antenna with many plug variant such as the MC card plug. Below the MiniMag Sputnik with separate suction cup ground plane.

3G external antenna - the MiniMag Sputnik by SmartEQ
3G external antenna - the MiniMag Sputnik by SmartEQ

The MiniMag Sputnik has a magnetic mount.

3G external antenna for better range

The Option GlobeSurfer III uses a "MC card" antenna jack. It’s a miniature antenna connection not to be used too often. For those not familiar with these antenna plugs it can be quite a struggle to be sure to select the external antenna with the right plug. The other micro antenna plug variants like MCX, MMCX, Proxim and UFL look similar but are different from the MC plug.

MC plug to RP-SMA conversion lead for external antenna
MC plug to RP-SMA conversion lead (RG 174) for external antenna - (not reverse RP-SMA)

A RP-SMA connector would make more sense for the GlobeSurfer III (above - top right) as found in WIFI devices with external antenna’s.  For those considering buying the Option GlobeSurfer III it consider using a MC plug to RP-SMA conversion lead. It saves the fragile MC external antenna jack and allows other GSM/UMTS antenna’s with RP-SMA plug.

The picture above shows the normal RP-SMA plug - (not the reverse version) connected to a RG-174 coaxial lead for indoor use. For outdoor use and larger distances RG-58 coaxial leads are better.

For those considering DIY antenna leads – soldering RP-SMA connectors requires experience and the right tools. Soldering a RP-SMA connector for the first time takes quite a bit of trial and error miniature work.

Setting up a 3G connection

Setting up a 3G internet connection requires a bit of experience with GSM / UMTS internet connections and managing network routers. The installation manual assumes this experience and provides minimal information. Below an impression of the management console of the 3G router – connected using the WIFI access point.

Option GlobeSurfer III management console
Option GlobeSurfer III management console - through WIFI access point

The pincode of the SIM card is entered through the management console.

The cellular internet settings are entered in WAN cellular properties:

Option GlobeSurfer III 3G cellular WAN settings AP and username
Option GlobeSurfer III 3G cellular WAN settings AP and username

To get the Option GlobeSurfer III operational the Acces Point name (AP), username and password was entered for the vodafone network. Network Authentication was set on PAP for this network.

The 3G router has several other software features, such as sharing a USB disk and printer over LAN.

Option GlobeSurfer III software features
Option GlobeSurfer III software features



GlobeSurfer III operational details from the road

Using the Option GlobeSurfer III on the road is a smooth experience. With a cellphone GSM/UMTS signal strength was monitored to avoid parking at a spot with no GSM / UMTS coverage.  To connect to the internet requires entering the pincode through the management console (can be on auto-save also) then pressing the connect button on the Option GlobeSurfer III.

Sharing a disk through the USB port is also quite simple - inserting the USB disk then enable disk sharing. The disk appears on the network similar to a NAS. (Network Added Storage). As common with UNIX based systems - disk formatting should be FAT32 otherwise disk sharing reverts to read-only mode (with NFTS).

USB disks need to be externally powered. The GlobeSurfer III USB port doesn't supply enough power to run a 2,5" sized SATA laptop disk. The USB port is reported as USB 2.0 (480 Mbit/s) in the system management log. The speed is enough for casual file sharing. Driveimaging (Norton Ghost) over the shared USB disk slows the 3G internet connection indicating high processor load. NAS speed isn't high enough for a fast driveimage. A quick test showed a throughput of about 1Mbyte/sec.

After a while the display turns into screen saving mode showing the time moving around the screen. When there hasn't been an internet connection yet - the time is shown as two dashes. "-:-".

Unfortunately data / bandwidth usage is gone when powering off the GlobeSurfer. This while the total connection is remembered in non-volatile storage. It would be quite useful to display actual data usage on the internal display - maybe something for a future release?

Option GlobeSurfer III on the Internet

Below a price indication of the Option GlobeSurfer III on the internet.

Option GlobeSurfer 3G router with external antenna and internal simcard
Right side of the GlobeSurfer 3 router with external antenna
GlobeSurfer 3G router with external antenna and internal simcard - by Option.


Option GlobeSurfer III information

Software version tested in this article is:

Software Version: R1A60
Release Date: Jan 19 2010
Platform: BCM5354

  Product specification Option Globesufer III
  Product specification MiniMag Sputnik 3G antenna.

  RP-SMA connector information
  Howards Forum : MC card connector information

 Also interesting:

  Sharing 3G internet over WIFI
  Micro WIFI hotspot with the Nokia N95
  Sharing weak WIFI signals with others