a week ago, I picked up my newest gadget, the Huawei E5830. This is a personal wifi hotspot, something similar to the Novatel MiFi, available with Verizon (US) or M1 (Singapore).
My sister has the MiFi from M1 and she complains the same issue that many users have; the unit overheats. When it gets too hot, it just shuts down without warning! For my sister it seems to get to that point in 5mins of usage.
So, together, we picked up the Huawei E5830. In Singapore, there are 2 ways to buy that device. 1, with a contract with Singtel (one of the major telco), or 2, from 3rd party resellers.
The Singtel option is costly, and also did not apply for us as we have existing contracts for our data plan. The alternative is 3rd party resellers. Just about all of these 3rd party resellers sells the unlocked model from 3-UK. So it seems that the 3 UK could be the best provider in the world that offers the device with a nice pre-paid data plan. This makes the device available at a pretty reasonable price. In addition, some people have got their hands on the unlock code for the device and managed to unlock the devices and even change the firmware.
With the unlock and firmware upgrade, this device becomes usable with any 3G telcos in the world. It’s easy to find many people trying to sell this on eBay. For us, we found someone in Singapore who have brought in a large quantity of these devices and selling them at a slightly higher price than we can find in eBay. For the higher premium, at least we’ll get a better chance of some sort of “warranty” if we find any problems with the units.
The Huawei E5380 is slighly bigger than the first generation HSDPA USB modem. As it has a rechargeable battery inside, it weighs a little bit more, but still fairly light to carry around easily. Opening up the unit to slide in the SIM card is very similar to most mobile phones. To operate the unit, there are 3 buttons, power, wifi & 3G connect.
- Power – toggles the unit on and off
- wifi – toggles the wifi served on and off
- connect – gets the unit to establish a connection to the internet
The unit is pre-configured with WPA encrypted wifi out of the box. The WPA key is on a sticker next to the SIM card slot, so make sure to take note of the key when inserting the SIM card.
Once we power up the unit, give it about 30s to 1min to boot up, and when the “W” icon lights up, the WIFI is on and you can get your notebook, iPad, etc.. to search for the signal. Follow the standard way on your device to connect to a wifi.
If your unit has the firmware that has web management capabilities, just launch your favorite browser and point it to http://192.168.1.1. Login with the default credentials and it will take you to the web administration portal. For Starhub users, there’s actually nothing much to do, the unit will just work straight away. If you are a M1 or Singtel user, you’ll need to make some changes to the APN profile. Likewise if your provider requires some unique APN setup, this will have to be done.
One nice feature is that you can configure the unit to connect to 3G manually or on demand. Manually, means you’ll either need to press the button, or get into the web portal and click the “connect” button. On demand means that the 3G will auto connect once there’s a request from a client device to access something on the internet. It can have a time out setting which will disconnect the 3G connection after some time of inactivity. This probably can extend the battery life since the unit don’t have to maintain a permanent connection. On the similar note, the wifi signal can be set to auto-off after a period of inactivity also. This further saves power, but to re-enable wifi signal, you’ll have to press the wifi button on the device.
I’ve been quite happy with the performance of the unit, by specifications it is capable up to 7.2Mbps downstream. In reality, with Singtel as my provider I have reached up to 3Mbps, which for me is very much good enough for internet access on the go.
In addition to the wifi connection it provides, you can use the unit like a USB dongle as well. It has a standard mini-USB jack, and once plugged in, you’ll get the usual virtual CD-ROM drive that contains the connection manager installer. If you’ve used 3G USB dongles before, this will be a familiar ground for you. I have read before that some units will disable 3G when the USB is plugged in. This is not the case for my unit. So, this means that if you are sharing the device with others, and the battery goes low, you can just connect the device to your notebook to charge it up.
In the overall, I’m very pleased with this little investment. It is the perfect companion for iPad users, for people who work on the go, and to share with peers.
If you’ve read about my exploration of MyWi before, I’ll rate this unit to be a much better choice for a few reaons
- on top of the list – this device operates in Infrastructure mode (which mywi only works in ad-hoc)
- the E5380 offers many more features than MyWi, which one can argue is not critical just to get some internet connection on the go
- Since this unit works independently, it takes away the strain from my iPhone
- I can easily pass the unit to my wife for her usage, which otherwise I would not be able to do so with my iPhone
True, there’s a higher cost involved compared to just buying MyWi, so, it really comes down to individual situations and preferences.