WiFi, no MiFi

September 19, 2009

So you want to be connected to the internet on the move? Or you need connectivity at a conference without wifi?

Yes you could get a 3G USB dongle or stick, but that only allows a single computer to connect.

What happens if you also want to connect your mobile device, a second laptop, what happens if there is more than one person and only one dongle?

In the past the solution I used was Joikuspot which was an application which ran on my Nokia N95 phone. It acted as a wireless access point, it connected to the internet via 3G and then shared that connection over the phone’s wifi connection with other devices. It was a very clever technology which made life easier for me. There were a few downsides, the main was battery life, it drained battery from the N95 really fast, so was only useful for an hour or two or when the phone was plugged into the mains. Of course this meant that I couldn’t use the N95 as a phone, as the battery would be drained. Another problem I had was with devices such as the Nokia N810 and Sony PSP which would not connect to the Joikuspot wireless network. The reason was a limitation in the Symbian software which meant that the phone acted in ad-hoc mode for wireless rather than infrastructure. The N810 and PSP had issues with connecting to an ad-hoc network. It did however work fine with the iPod touch which was how I mainly used it.

I was very interested to hear from Andy Ihnatko on MacBreak Weekly about the MiFi. A battery powered 3G wireless router. Using a 3G SIM it would connect to the internet and then allow  up to five wireless clients to connect and share that 3G connection. With a four hour battery life, could be charged via USB and about the size of a credit card, it seemed ideal. Of course I didn’t expect to see it in the UK, probably only available in the US on Verizon or Sprint…

mifi2

I did an internet search (as you do) and found it on sale at Expansys (without a contract). Ordered and delivered.

Using a SIM from a Vodafone 3G USB dongle it was  very simple to set up and configure and I would recommend that you use the details from Ross Barkman’s excellent website on connection settings for GPRS/3G to save having to work out where the information is on your providers’ website.

You can configure it wirelessly, and the first things I did was rename the wireless network and add WPA2 security.

Once configured it is simply a matter of turning it on, waiting for it to connect and then connect your laptop (or other device) to the wireless network.

It works very well and felt faster than using the USB dongle!

One problem I have had is the MacBook Pro losing the wireless connection and being unable to re-connect with the result the only solution was to reboot the MiFi. I am now trying just WPA as I think it is a MacBook Pro wireless issue rather than a MiFi issue. Or it could be an issue with the fact I was on a train!

I do like the MiFi and it does what it says on the tin.

You can now get the MiFi from 3 on a contract or as PAYG. This is much “cheaper” than buying the unlocked MiFi, but of course you get less flexibility as a result.

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Likewise

July 23, 2009

Bill Thompson in his BBC column covers a couple of issues I have discussed before on this blog, lack of 3G and conference wifi.

Firstly Bill has been on holiday and has been “suffering” from a lack of connectivity.

I have just endured a week of limited connectivity and it has given me a salutary lesson in what life is like for the digitally dispossessed here in the UK and around the world.

I have been driven to searching for open wireless access points so that I can download my e-mail, sometimes wandering the beach looking for elusive 3G signals just to get my Facebook status updated.

He was on the Norfolk coast and it reminded me of my holiday last November on the Suffolk coast which I blogged about.

Lovely place, however connectivity was seriously lacking. The place we were staying at had no internet which generally isn’t an issue for me as I have a 3G USB stick (or I use my phone as a tethered modem or using JoikuSpot as a wireless hotspot).

However despite the area being very trendy and popular could I get a mobile phone signal? No I could not! No signal from T-Mobile or Vodafone…

As a result I had no connectivity apart from when we travelled to an area with a mobile phone signal or at a place with wifi.

boat

My similar experiences to Bill should remind us that we should never take connectivity for granted and that though 3G is great it still does not cover all of the UK. We when designing websites and e-learning content need to remember that not all our learners will have fast broadband speeds or good 3G connections.Using video and audio is great (you can even now have HD video on the web as seen in this video I put up recently).

As I summarised in my blog post:

It did make me think about those learners who don’t have easy access to the internet, and despite falling costs of both broadband and 3G it can still be sometimes impossible to get online as the area itself does not have broadband or 3G coverage. Rural and coastal areas are often places with minimal 3G coverage and broadband access. Using 3G at 7.2Mbps in the centre of London streaming video and browsing really fast makes you sometimes forget that in some areas this is an impossibility.

As well as having issues with 3G in Norfolk, Bill also had problems with wifi at a conference he was at.

We had wifi access inside the theatre as the conference included tutorials on social networks and online engagement, and the audience were encouraged to contribute questions online so they could be displayed on the screen behind the speakers.

Unfortunately the wifi stopped working about half-way through the first session of the day, and those of us with smartphones and laptop dongles were forced to resort to slower 3G connections.

The reason given was:

It appeared that we had overwhelmed the capacity of the wireless network that the venue had set up for us..I talked to the IT support engineer and he asked me how many of us were trying to connect, and I told him I estimated that thirty to forty people were using laptops and probably the same number had wifi-enabled smartphones. After he had recovered from the shock he explained that the wifi router they had installed could only support twenty simultaneous connections and had crashed when we all tried to log on.

This is now happening too often at events I go to; I blogged about this back in October last year.

One thing I have noticed attending a few events recently is that the wireless networks have been unable to cope with the large number of delegates wanting to use it.

A few years (or even just a year ago) if you attended an event with free wireless, there were probably just a few of you who used it with their laptops. Today if you attend an event, you may find that everyone (virtualy everyone) has a laptop and if not a laptop then a PDA or a phone or an entertainment device with wifi capability.

As a result the wireless networks can not cope… Generally this happens because most wireless routers can only deal with a limited number of wireless clients.

With many more people with laptops, netbooks, wifi enabled phones conference venues need to have a much better infrastructure to cope with the wireless. Likewise if we are to be encouraged to amplify the conference through social media and social networking then we need decent connectivity. If we are also going to live stream video and audio from the conference then we need more than decent connectivity we need excellent connectivity.

I recall an Apple Keynote at WWDC in 2007 when video iChat was demonstrated I believe that due to issues with the entire audience using the 802.11g network, they used 802.11a to ensure that the demo worked.

Sometimes it can work. At the MoleNET Conference at the Emirates stadium which was awash with mobile wireless kit and the LSN had ensured that a robust infrastructure was in place and it worked really well.

Of course it is not just wifi, if everyone has an iPhone at the conference, then there will be issues with 3G connectivity as happened at SXSW in Texas this year. 3G does not work as well inside as it does outside which is one factor, but as happened at SXSW too many people using 3G devices means that there is insufficient bandwidth for everyone. The solution at SXSW was bringing in extra capacity to meet the demand.

Demand is another issue with ADSL and contention ratios. Despite the hype and advertising, for some (me included) it is impossible to get more than 1Mb download speed on ADSL due to not only distance from the exchange but also the contention ratio as more and more consumers sign up for broadband.

What Bill’s column and my blog articles show is that we can’t take (at this time) connectivity for granted, for some it will be restricted because of geography and for others because of excess demand, we need to remember that.


Wifi – Venetian Style

July 6, 2009

venicewifi

BBC reports on Venice’s new wifi network.

The Italian city of Venice has launched what is believed to be the most extensive, wireless internet system anywhere in Europe.

Ten thousand kilometres of cables have been laid, establishing wi-fi hotspots just about everywhere in the city.

So now when in Venice you will be able to use your laptop, UMPC, micro-laptop, wifi phone,  iPhone, even an iPod touch to connect to the internet over wifi.

Here in the UK we have Norwich however not much else seems to be happening with city wide wireless networks. Gloucester doesn’t have one, neither does Bristol; my two big local towns. Even finding free wifi is problematic with most wifi hotspots are charging, sometimes silly amounts of money.

If we are serious about personalisation of learning, mobile learning and enhancing e-learning, we need to allow our learners to be able to communicate, collaborate and reflect anywhere, anytime and at a pace to suit the learner. This more often then not, means that the learner needs to be connected. If they are using the VLE, Web 2.0 tools such as Twitter, blogs, e-portfolios, or whatever; all these tools generally need an internet connection.

3G which isn’t available on all devices: is too expensive for most, not reliable enough for all, patchy for some and leads to digital exclusion.

City wide wireless networks like in Venice and Norwich would allow learners to access learning when and where they wanted to.

Photo source.


e-Learning Stuff Podcast #025: To tether or not to tether

June 28, 2009

James talks about his opinion of Apple’s new iPhone 3GS. He talks about the new features, the 3MP camera, video, digital compass, faster hardware, internet tethering.

iphone3gs

He mentions JoikuSpot, the Nokia N95, MiFi, wifi hotspots and the WiFi Zone and Wifi Trak iPhone applications. He then reviews his new Polaroid Pogo printer and finishes off on Evernote.

This is the twenty-fifth e-Learning Stuff Podcast, To tether or not to tether.

Download the podcast in mp3 format: To tether or not to tether

Subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.

James is on his own this week.

Shownotes

  • Apple launch the new iPhone 3GS which has some nice new capabilities.
  • JoikuSpot allows you to use your wifi phone, such as the Nokia N95, as a wireless access point.
  • The MiFi is a 3G wireless access point, which runs on battery.
  • WiFi Zone and WiFi Trak are iPhone applications which allow you to find WiFi hostspots (both links are iTunes Store links)
  • The Polaroid Pogo is a Bluetooth portable battery powered printer which prints 3″ x 2″ sticker prints using a zero ink technology called Zink.
  • Evernote is a web based note application.

Engineerlingly Small

March 30, 2009

One of the nice things about my job and working on the MoLeNET programme is the fact that I can try out new pieces of equipment and wonder about their impact on our learners and learning.

I have written (and spoken) about the new breed of micro-laptops that surfaced last year starting wirth the Asus EeePC. Since then the number and type of micro-laptops have blossomed. So much so that the original 7″ Asus EeePC is now no longer available. Asus have improved upon their original concept and others have copied them. The Asus 901 for example has the same form factor as the first model, but now has a 8.9″ screen which does make a difference in how usable it is.

One micro-laptop which I did like was the HP 2133 which came with the bigger 8.9″ screen and importantly a 90% size keyboard. Though I liked the Asus EeePC the keybvoard was rather too small for me and I know others found it difficult to type large amounts of text on it. The HP 2133 was well suited to those who found the smaller micro-laptops too much of a microscopic size. However no point in recommending the HP 2133 as HP have decided to withdraw that model. Their replacement, the HP 2140 has a similar form factor to the 2133, included the nice keyboard, but now has a10.1″ screen. You have to ask is it a micro-laptop or is really no longer that form factor and more a subnotebook now?

One factor common to both of these was the linux operating system used instead of Windows. The Xandros on the Asus is very easy and simple to use, whilst the Suse Desktop OS used on the HP 2133 allowed more flexibiloity in installing software, not impossible on the Asus, just easier.

More recently I have been using a totallt different type of micro-laptop, the Sony VAIO P Series. In many ways this couldn’t be more different. It runs WIndows Vista. It has an 8″ (20.3cm) widescreen screen with a 1600×768 screen resolution. One aspect I do like about it is that it has a Apple’esque nearly full size keyboard which works for typiing for me. This blog entry for example was written on it.

Engineerlingly Small

As well as wireless and Bluetooth it also supports HDSPA. remove the battery insert your 3G SIM card and using a simple application, adjust the setrtings use the VAIO with a 3G connection without having to worry about plugging in a dongle or tethering to a phone as a modem.

It also looks like Sony have been listening to their customers and as well as a Memory Stick slot the VAIO also has a SD card slot. Considering how much use I now make of SD cards with cameras, mp3 recorders and sharing files, the SD card slot is very welcome.

The one thing which everyone comments on is the size and weight, it weighs very little and is only 24.5 by 12 cm.

Such a small device has to make compromises and the screen resolution and size means that some people may have difficulty with the Vista interface.

Battery life is pretty good and you can purchase an extended battery which will last twice as long. I am currently getting about 2 hours out of the standard battery.

So why wouldn’t everyone get one?

Well the price of course!

The VAIO UX1XN UMPC which came out in 2007 cost nerly £2000. The TX series of micro-laptops from Sony cost about £1400.

The P series is about £850 though you can spend more and get the model with the SSD drive. So for the price of one P series you could get three Auss EeePCs.


Fishing Boats and Seagulls

November 3, 2008

Fishing Boats and Seagulls

I have spent the last few days away on holiday in a place called Aldeburgh on the Suffolk coast.

Lovely place, however connectivity was seriously lacking. The place we were staying at had no internet which generally isn’t an issue for me as I have a 3G USB stick (or I use my phone as a tethered modem or using JoikuSpot as a wireless hotspot).

However despite the area being very trendy and popular could I get a mobile phone signal? No I could not! No signal from T-Mobile or Vodafone…

As a result I had no connectivity apart from when we travelled to an area with a mobile phone signal or at a place with wifi.

Now generally when I am on holiday lack of the internet is not a problem – hey I am on holiday – but even on holiday it can be useful to have net access for holiday stuff: finding out opening times for attractions, locations and pricing. Also useful for finding out the times of In The Night Garden. It was also weird just having four TV channels, my Freeview Tuner for my Mac couldn’t pick up any channels in the area.

However this time (though I try and avoid working on my holidays) I had a meeting to organise in London and was also blogging at the JISC online conference, so as well as slightly inconvenient on my holiday, was annoying from a work perspective.

It did make me think about those learners who don’t have easy access to the internet, and despite falling costs of both broadband and 3G it can still be sometimes impossible to get online as the area itself does not have broadband or 3G coverage. Rural and coastal areas are often places with minimal 3G coverage and broadband access. Using 3G at 7.2Mbps in the centre of London streaming video and browsing really fast makes you sometimes forget that in some areas this is an impossibility.


Dell enters the fray

May 29, 2008

From BBC News

Dell is joining the burgeoning ranks of companies offering cut-down laptops, called netbooks, aimed at the developing world and general consumers.

The laptop was shown by Michael Dell to the editor of website Gizmodo at the All Things Digital Conference.

Read more.

Dell enters the fray...

Dell is the biggest PC maker in the world and the fact that they have entered the market shows how big and how serious this market is to PC makers.

For a lot of consumers this is their second computer, their main computer is a desktop machine which sits at home. The micro-laptop (umpc) format allows them to have a second computer which is very portable. Though similar or slightly more expensive “proper” sized laptops are available, it is the extreme portability of these laptops that are one of the main attractions. The fact it has a proper keyboard is another feature which other UMPCs and portable devices lack and it would seem people like a proper keyboard – even if it is on the small side.

From an e-learning perspective this is a device (format) which I know learners like (from our MoLeNET experiences) and I would suspect that a lot of learners in FE will start buying (or will be bought) these computers. At a price point not much more than a gaming console (or even less) it might be seriously considered as a present for someone attending an FE College.

Also with the growth of student wireless networks in FE, this will allow internet connectivity which turns it from a “dumb” computer to a connected internet device. Even in those institutions without the bandwidth for a student wireless network, those learners may consider getting a 3G USB dongle.

Already I have “caught” a learner in our Library, using an Asus EeePC with a Three 3G USB dongle for learning!

Thanks Gary.