Get mobile broadband on your Linux laptop

How to set up services from O2, T-Mobile and Vodafone

This is given in the INSTALL file, so you can paste it from there instead of having to typing it out. Note, however, that pythonsetuptools is not listed in the INSTALL file despite being required by the installer. Users of other distros should look for similarly named packages in their package manager.

The next step is to set some permissions with
sudo chown :dialout /etc/ppp/ peers
sudo chmod g+rw /etc/ppp/ peers
sudo chown :dialout /etc/ppp/*- secrets
sudo chmod g+rw /etc/ppp/*- secrets

These commands make sure that the files and directories used by Wvdial are writable by members of the dialout group. You may also need to add yourself to this group using your distro's user manager or with the commands
group
sudo gpasswd -a myusername dialout

The first command lists the groups you belong to – do not run this as root! If 'dialout' is not listed, run the second command, which needs root access, to add your user to the 'dialout' group. You will need to log out and back into your desktop session before this change takes effect. Debian users should add themselves to the 'dip' group in the same way, and Fedora users need to be members of 'uucp'.

Once this is done, unpack the archive, enter the project directory, read the installation instructions to make sure you have completed all of the pre-installation steps and run the installer with:
tar xf vodafone-mobile-connect-card-driver-for-linux-2.0.beta3.tar. gz
cd vodafone-mobile-connect-card-driver-for-linux-2.0.beta3
less INSTALL
sudo python setup.py install

The INSTALL file implies that this is all that is needed, but there is an extra step to compile a utility program. This needs a compiler toolchain installed, which you usually get by installing the build-essentials package. It also needs libusb-dev installed.

The contrib directory contains three subdirectories – use e220 for all Huawei USB modems – while the ovation directory contains files for Novatel modems. These are udev rules and a utility program to switch the device to modem mode instead of CD-ROM. Enter the correct directory then build and install the files with:
cd contrib/e220
make
sudo make install

This installs huaweiAktBbo to /usr/sbin. This is the program that initialises the modem, disabling the CD side of the device and enabling the control connection on /dev/ttyUSB1, with /dev/ ttyUSB0 staying as the serial connection for the modem. It also installs a custom udev rule file that calls /usr/sbin/huaweiAktBbo when the modem is connected. It is not necessary to run huaweiAktBbo for normal PPP usage with a standard dialler program, but it doesn't do any harm. It is needed by vmc, but you can build this part without vmc just to initialise the modem, in which case you do not need the long list of dependencies.

Run vmc by typing vodafone-mobile-connect-card-driverfor-linux in a terminal (we're sure you will quickly add it to your launcher to save wearing out your keyboard/fingers). The first time you run it, it looks for a modem and asks you for the configuration options, the defaults all worked fine with Vodafone.

It seems like a lot of trouble to install this software, you are probably wondering why you should bother when any of the normal PPP programs will work. The reason is that doing it this way this does more than just connect to the internet. It provides usage information, with an option to warn you when you exceed a threshold, and SMS management, so you can write text messages in real words on a proper keyboard.

Vodafone did point out that the company is not directly supporting Linux drivers for their devices, but that the Vodafone Group is supporting the open source development of this software. This is the best approach for us, because it means that the company is putting resources into Linux development and the product of that investment is available to everyone, and always will be. The Betavine Forge website is worth a visit by anyone interesting in mobile developments.

Returning to our original questions: is the coverage and speed there? Yes it is. Maybe not as an alternative to a fixed-line broadband connection, but very good for mobile use. Does it work with Linux? Yes, and very well once you get it set up, which will be easier once Vodafone's software comes out of beta. Even so, using standard diallers is relatively simple.

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First published in Linux Format, Issue 113

Now read How to network Vista, XP, Linux and OS X and get all your machines communicating with ease.