Tag Archives: 3G


Hints on using a 3G Dongle

Although this is a sailing blog I thought I’d follow up on my earlier post on internet aboard just a quick tip if you need 3G access. It’s well worth buying a 3G dongle which will act as a wifi access point so that you can share the access amongst several Internet hungry devices (such as your ipad, iphone, notebook or andriod) while just buying a single local SIM. I’ve used the same Huawei e585 dongle from amazon (unlocked so it’s network independent – and cheaper) in both the UK and Portugal. Given the choice go for a wifi enabled dongle that doesn’t rely on a usb connection to a notebook or pc.

Sharing a 3G dongle with wifi

A wifi enabled 3g dongle let’s you position the dongle near a window for better reception for example and without relying on it being directly connected to a PC you can use the dongle to connect to the Internet from a smart phone, iPad, iPhone or several phones for example. The 3g dongle is simply a wifi access point (a hotspot) which allows every device to connect to it and share the same 3g access. They are more expensive but well worth it.

I use my Huawei dongle with  my ipad 3, Nexus 7 and our two mobile phones both htc’s (htc touch and htc desire) at the same time without a problem. We also take an Asus notepad and again no problem using the e585 Huawei as a wifi access point. You do need to connect securely with the wifi access WPA key which you find on the inside of the dongles cover. Its just like connecting to any other wifi access point, it will broadcast its presence, you pick it and enter the password and away you go.

Out of the box the Huawei dongles default password is “Admin” (username the same “Admin”).

If your trying to share a dongle (adsl or 3g) which is attached to a PC for a example, read my how to share a dongle post.

Three for 3G

When travelling to the UK I’ve used the Three network for data access. What’s great about the Three SIM is that offer a top up which gives you a days Internet access for just 50p. But be warned, and I fell foul off this, if you go over the “days” allowance (which is circa 150mb) it doesn’t automatically add another day – no it defaults to 10p or so a MB. so 90mb later you (or as I did in this sorry tale) can blow the rest of your £9.50 credit in the blink of 10 minutes of movie watching.

The 3 SIM from Amazon[/amazon_linkalsoith 3G valid for 3 months is also a good buy at circa £20.

Monitoring 3G usage

You can monitor your 3G dongle usage with the my3 website but it’s easy to forget to keep an eye on it. Although they warn you it’s running out they do that via an SMS message (as do other networks like O2, Vodaphone etc). Dongles do receive SMS messages but you need to access the http server that runs on the dongle device itself (the dongles own user interface) via web browser (for example by connecting to to read them unless your running a feature rich client on your end device or using a usage monitor.

To play it safe I’d advise with Three when using daily 50p Internet top up that you buy an additional days top up. Three have a “queue” feature so when one top up is used the next one kicks in. That way if you do go over it should just move onto the next days allowance even if it is same day, much better paying at the daily rate than the over usage rate.

It’s also worth noting that you cannot top up via a credit card (other than initial top up) within 7 days on a newly registered Three SIM. You can however go into a store and buy a voucher and top up via the my3 website.

Registering your 3G SIM card

Another hint with my3 and registering your dongle is that the device number ( which they ask for when registering or restating the password) is your SIMs actual phone number. To find that you may well have to connect to the dongles own menu via a web browser (my huawei 585 dongle is accessed via or find it on the packaging.

How to find your Three device number

  • Power on your dongle, connect to the it’s wifi signal.
  • Next open a web browser on your smart phone, ipad, pc, notepad etc and goto
  • Next select the section “change your settings”
  • Enter username “Admin” password “Admin” (no quotes)
  • Once logged in, on the left hand menu select “Diagnostics”
  • And you will see you SIMs phone number, this is it’s device number

By taking the SIMs phone number together with the last 6 digits on the sim card (long number on the SIM card itself) Three will SMS you a password to the dongle so you can register your SIM card which you need to do to be able to top up. You will need access the my3 site to register and access the dongles user interface to read the SMS message.

If you forget your my3 password three will reset online. Its the same process as above, you need the device number (phone number), sim card number (last six digits) and they will SMS the new password to the SIM in your dongle. So again try not to forget the 3G device password otherwise you’ll have to reset it dongle to take it back to factory settings and the known username password.

3G dongle network settings

When you swap SIMs you are also changing network (just like if you swapped broadband or adsl provider). Different telecoms networks often have different configurations the APN (access point name) might need changing on the dongle (via a web browser to its menu) so make sure you grab a list before you change network (otherwise no Internet to find the settings…). A good starter list for APN setting for worldwide 3G Telecoms providers can be found here.

Remember you have both the telcos system for topping up (by minutes, days of access, or bandwidth) and you manage your SIM card and the menu (dashboard) for the dongle to updates it’s configuration.

Problems accessing the dongles menu

I initially had problems with with accessing the admin functions within the Three 3G dongle dashboard, when I went to login the device it would hang and lockup and I literally would have to remove the battery in order for it to function again. It turned out the the web browser (old version of Internet explorer) on the notebook that I was using to access the dashboard crashed the dongle by going into some sort of recursive loop.

Once I switched to firefox it was fine.

Unlocking a 3G sim card

If your dongle is locked to a particular network and you want to change search for the PSAS (phone system analysis software) application, this dumps out the contents of your dongles configuration allowing you to find the code that will enable you (via another piece of software) to unlock it.

Another option – and better – on Huawei devices is to use “Huawei mobile partner” which replace (by flashing the device i.e. Over writing the programs that the device runs). The dashboard on your 3G dongle is customised by the telco in my case Three you replace their settings with a generic version provided by the dongle chipset manufacturer, in the case Huawei. Then yo can access any network.

It’s often cheaper to by a locked 3G dongle (just like it is a locked mobile phone) and unlocking i from the particular network. Plenty of mobile phone outlets will help unlock you dongle if you need help or you can buy unlock services via the likes of eBay (you keep your dongle and they provide unlock codes) or just buy an unlocked 3G dongle in the first place.

Using you dongle to access SD cards

A less well known feature of some 3g dongles is the ability to share micro SD cards over WiFi. Simply you can install your SD card and access it from your device. The reason this is useful is when you have devices such as the amazing kindle fire,Nexus 7 or iPad that don’t support SD cards. I’ve written another post about this if you interested in how to access sd cards.

3G in Portugal

In Portugal I used the Orange network (and very handy it is too when the Orange store is right in the Algarve airport – Faro airport and I found them very helpful). The SIM I bought was based on time rather than data usage which is a bit a hassle if your light bandwidth user, but it worked, I then topped up at the Algarve shopping centre Orange store as needed. (If your looking for villa to rent in the Algarve we used Algarve Housing which aren’t a big mass market agent and so seem to have a number if niche properties, no connection other than as a satisfied customer.)


In Jersey a couple of local telcoms providers offer 3G access

Keeping it local…

Sure Cable and Wireless

CW or Sure currently do a couple of different deals for 3G internet iva a dongle or handset, either one pound a day deal with a data SIM or on a normal a payg sim they offer free unlimited data for 14days with a £5 topup etc outside of that they currently offer payg at 2p per MB, check surecw.com for latest deals). It changing regularly so check.

Jersey Telecoms

JT do similar deals on payg

Payg data is currently 5p per MB rather than 2p with surecw.com

Airtel Vodaphone are the third supplier, though personally I’ve only had experience with JT and Sure.

Data Roaming Warning

Network Three are not represented in Jersey nor are Orange, be warned on your UK SIM (as in Orange, Three, O2 etc) you will be roaming in both Jersey and Guernsey I.e. potentially several pounds a mb of data access – which is hugely expensive.

Best to buy a local SIM for 3G access in either Jersey or Guernsey ( or Sark or Alderney!).


Internet on a boat

How to receive the Internet on a boat is something I’ve put quite a bit of thought into. Firstly you need to understand what you mean by Internet. Predominately we’re talking web browsing and email access but this could include other access such as applications that utilise the Internet to access remote servers or services think programs that download their own GRIB weather files for examples or clients that support peer to peer file sharing.

Everyone is going to have to balance the need for access verses the cost of access and the practically.

the Internet is just a network that anybody can connect to, you then choose which services and servers you wish to access. How you access those services will play a big part in the amount of bandwidth you need.

Let’s look at email onboard

If you take email as a service, many of us have got used to using a browser to access email, but to do that you need to access the Internet and a website, quite often that website comes with lots of needless information, adverts, other options, lists of existing email that are saved, your folder structure, the news headlines.

If on the other hand you used an email client on your PC such as Microsoft outlook, your traffic would be limited to sending emailing and checking for emails and receiving. Clearly the application may transmit data back and forth as part of connecting and checking for new mails but it’s likely to be more efficient (though developers boat often more focused on features than efficiency).

Traffic compression services

Sending and receiving email efficiently is nothing new and a number of companies have setup to act as a highly efficient access point for the transmission and recipt of email. Two of the most popular are mailasail.com and xgate. Both of these companies over services based on a monthly fee and claim to offer 10 to 15 times more efficient email access i.e. To send a email with their service against using a browser client. They do this be stripping out all of the unnecessary control data sent and received between their client on your computer and their server that holds and receives your email. Mailasail also supports blogging functionality which is popular amongst cruisers. Other features include the removal of attachments to save bandwidth and optimised web browsing. Just as important is the education of other users who you give your onboard address to. Getting them not to hit reply and therefore sending the email back to you is a big one. I’ve used mailasail and can throughly recommend it.

If you do use the mailasail blog function you might want to think about using wordpress or alike to display your posts. Obviously your posts will appear at your mailasail URL but you can also use the RSS feed that mailasail provides to republish your postings on a dedicated blog site. For example if you use a wordpress plugin such as RSS Poster on you main site (like mine www.yachtpelican.com) you have a much greater degree of control, all the non blog posts, commenting, adding pictures etc and all of your updates are in one place making it easier for others to follow.

Whether you use a service such as mailasail.com will depend on your connection options. 

If you have wifi access it’s probably not needed unless you send lots of emails and are charged on a data basis. Where these services come into their own is when you use a satellite or radio service to connect to the Internet via the modem in the satellite phone. These network services are slow, literally dozens if not more like 100′s of times slower than average wifi network access. And for satellite access you need expensive airtime which can easily run into a couple of dollars a minute. Anything you can do to reduce the time to send and receive is worth dollars in your pocket.

Packet Radio

Radio delivered network access has been around for along time and is no doubt the forerunner. Ham radio enthusiasts have been using packet radio – the transmission of packets of data over radio frequencies (with the software supporting satellite as well) for along time. Commercial services such as sailmail.com and free amateur services such as Winlink provide access and compression email software, as again speeds are slow.

Compared to satellite the running costs are lower but the setup costs are higher. You not only need a HF radio set but a radio modem (Pactor is a the most popular) to convert data packets into radio signals along with a HF radio license and for the ammeter services you need an amateur radio license. Importantly you also need base stations to connect to via radio, sat phones clearly use satellites, radio requires radio stations capable of acting as your gateway to the Internet. These are provided by amateurs and in sailmail’s instance commercially.

Wifi Internet

I’ve covered the wifi adaptor that I’m using in a later post. Simply to be able to pick up free hotspots you’ll need to boost the range of your wifi antenna. And if you wish to share wifi access onboard creating your own access point is the way to go.

Mobile such as HSPA or the faster 3G and 4G services

Most mobile phones can access the Internet, you can in turn use your phone as a modem through which other devices can also access. You can also make use of USB or bluetooth or wifi 3g dongles, which often also support wifi through the creation of a temp hotspot.

The modem is the key…

In your phone, satellite phone, wifi adaptor, radio.