Life with T-Mobile, a 3G Modem, and a G1

A few months ago I bought a PAYG T-Mobile 3G USB dongle. I have to say it hasn’t been the smoothest ride ever. My good friend Sara, visiting the UK from the States, also got one recently to use while over here and she had even bigger problems than I did as it breaks Snow Leopard.

I love my iPhone. I started a second contract to have an iPhone 3G when they came out. This meant I had my old contract still. Rather than ending it I decided to use it as a work phone, change to T-Mobile (UK) and got myself a Google G1 to find out what Android is like and to learn how to code for it. My conclusion. Its okay! I would be perfectly happy with it if the iPhone didn’t exist.

I bet you can hear the silent ‘but’. The battery life is not good on the G1. I run my iPhone with everything enabled but I turn off WiFi and GPS on the G1 to extend the battery life. And there’s at least one reason why the battery life is bad which I will describe later. However T-Mobile does have better 3G coverage than O2 and unlike O2 I can use the ‘free’ WiFi I get via T-Mobile hotspots with my MacBook as well as my phone. The BTOpenZone accessibility I get through O2 on the iPhone is locked to the iPhone. T-Mobile just seems to do it better.

So when I came to look for 3G support for my Mac I looked at tethering through the iPhone but I’m sorry O2 another £15 a month for something I already have is a joke. I talked to T-Mobile about tethering through the G1 and was told (a) it was possible; (b) that it had been removed at T-Mobile’s request; and (c) if I had a 3G modem I could use the G1 SIM in it since my account had broadband over 3G enabled. So I decided to go for a T-Mobile PAYG 3G modem. I already had the WiFi and the few times I didn’t have access to WiFi I could use via the modem.

Now comes the first bit of fun and games. I use the online web shop and order one. Everything seems fine but then I get an e-mail saying they were out of stock (not indicated in the shop though). Coincidentally I get a marketing phone call from T-Mobile saying since I was a customer was I interested in mobile broadband. I told them that I had ordered a 3G modem but they were out of stock and was told that “stock had just arrived” and that “we’ll cancel that order and put one through on your phone bill and get it in the post today”. Sure enough one turned up the following day. Then another one turned up the day after that! I ended up selling the second one to my housemate.

The USB modem comes with the software in it. You plug it in and it installs the support software if necessary. No CD-ROM required. However on the Mac why do I need special software. It’s just a USB modem that uses AT commands. Surely a suitable script for the standard OS X software would be sufficient? I will have to look in to this.

However there is a really big problem on OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard WHICH BREAKS YOUR OS X INSTALL!. It seems that the T-Mobile connection software ships with a 32 bit only version of the libcurl dynamic library that over writes the one in /usr/lib. Before connecting the T-Mobile USB modem on Snow Leopard ensure that you have backed up all the copies of the libcurl dylib in that location and be expected that you will have to boot in single user modem to replace the over written libraries with the original again. Luckily I installed mine before upgrading to Snow Leopard and so avoided this problem. Sara alas, did not and it is she who debugged the issue.

Next I found that T-Mobile has a disproportionate parental control system. Any web site that could potentially have anything on it that may be construed to be not safe for children. So this was basically most of the internet. When you come up against a blocked site you get the following screen.

T-Mobile Content Lock

T-Mobile Content Lock

Unfortunately clicking on the registration link takes you through to this screen which is a bit fail. How do you phone them from your mobile phone when it isn’t a mobile phone.

No Number

No Number

I tried using the SIM in my G1 but it hasn’t got voice calls enabled. You can’t enable it via the My T-Mobile web site because if you’re on PAYG it doesn’t have that option so the alternatives are phoning from a mobile or going in to a T-Mobile store which totally negates why you bought it over the internet in the first place i.e. avoiding having to go in to a store. O2 wont let you phone T-Mobile customer support via their system so I used the G1, and after getting bounced around via various departments, and having to use my credit card to have £2 deducted and then added back, I got the blocks removed. It wasn’t easy though.

Now comes the other issue. As suggested when using the dongle a lot I swap SIMs with my G1. But I discovered that if my G1 is left on my credit is used on my PAYG SIM anyway. Sara also found that her credit would disappear on the PAYG SIM she used in her G1 due to data usage. It turns out that the G1 has a heart beat ‘ping’ that it sends to Google over the GSM network regardless of whether you are connected to WiFi or not. This means that it is running down your credit just by being on. This is not optimal and to be honest damned annoying. You have been warned! Turning it off requires hacking your phone.

So in theory they should both be good products. But a combination of nanny controls, poor systems, and assumptions about use, makes them less than ideal.

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