Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Nifty Mi-Fi

Loosely referred to as the "dongle", dongles are small cellular transmitter-receivers, about the size of a computer USB memory stick, which when shoved into the USB port on your computer, allows said computer to access the Internet, without the use of wires.

One of the greatest problems with using dongles on boats is that you invariably have to sit in strange places around the boat, in order to get a signal.

If you ever see a boater sitting on the roof of their narrowboat, holding a laptop, in the middle of the winter, there's a good chance its because he has a temperamental dongle.

Most cellular networks in the UK are geared towards highly populated areas, motorways etc.
There isn't much mileage for these operators, in putting masts up near the canals.

This usually means that the signal strength on the cut is from middling to non-existent.

As a direct result of this rule, boaters have experimented with everything from external aerials to putting their dongles in freezer bags and hanging them from broomsticks on the roof.
The extra height can often improve reception.

Unfortunately, you still need to sit attached to the dongle by a USB cable.

Today I purchased a new solution.

Its the Huawei E5830 Mi-Fi Dongle.

Essentially, its a normal dongle, which works on the Hutchinson Telecom "3" network.
Its difference is that it contains a wireless (Wi-Fi) transmitter, so once it has acquired its signal through the cell, it then transmits to any wireless device in range.

This means that a wireless ready laptop, netbook or iPod Touch will suddenly be the lucky recipient of internet access, without the use of wired routers.

So, to cut an already long story, short, I now have wireless on my boat, which works anywhere I can get "3" coverage.

As we chug our way around Englands green and pleasant canals, I take my own personal Wi-Fi "cloud" with me.

The Mi-Fi fits nicely in the cratch, where it is protected from the rain, but permanently powered by a mini USB port (which is currently supplied from the boats AC inverter supply).

It means that I can use my laptop or my iPod anywhere in the saloon. I can sit comfortably, with my feet up, on the sofa or sit at the table on the dinette.

Whats more, as the Mi-Fi allows more than one user to access its wares, the first mate can use her laptop while I'm surfing on my iPod.

Its a bit early for a full road test report, but one little niggle so far; if you don't refresh a web page for a while, the Mi-Fi disconnects itself from the service, which means a trip to the cratch for a reset (you have to push a button on the side of the Huawei unit).

Also, it would be nice if you can see what the Mi-Fi signal strength is, from the laptop.

Well you can't have everything and I think Mi-Fi is "sci-fi".


  1. Thanks for the info sometime ago T-Mobile did a wireless unit into which you pluged your dongle and it the could be used as a wirless unit but it seems to have gone off the maeket so this unit could be usefull but does this enable anyone close access to your wireless unit or can you protect it.

  2. No it's locked with a security key and password like a normal Wi-Fi

  3. I was on a T mobile dongle just out of contract & Mark was on vodaphone pay as you go. Was looking around for an (cheaper)alternative when read your account of Mi-fi.
    Quick trip into town to the 3 shop & now both on-line & dongle free for same price as T.mob.
    T mob not too chuffed when I cancelled....
    Thanks for the heads up!!


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